Henry Clay: Effective Legislator and Statesman?

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

ClayBy Erin Baggett, Northridge High School, Tuscaloosa, AL

Born on April 12, 1777, Henry Clay was just another member of a large Virginia family. As a young child, he experienced hard times. When Clay was four years old, his father, John Clay died. Soon after, Henry personally witnessed British soldiers invade the family home during the later years of the American Revolution. Thus, historians suggest that this form of military and political conflict influenced the career that he chose—being a successful public servant. Despite a reputable family, Clay had little schooling or training. However, he did have the privilege of working under George Wythe, one of the most notable Virginia lawyers, according to the website “How Stuff Works” (2008). At the youthful age of twenty, Clay passed the bar and was able to become a lawyer in the state of Virginia. Not wanting to compete with the large number of lawyers, he decided to move to the frontier, also known as Kentucky. After developing his own law practice in Lexington (Edwards, 2007), Clay married Lucretia Hart in 1799, who was a member of a prosperous Kentucky family. As a result, he was able to gain status as a landowner, which further built his growing reputation among the locals in Lexington.

With a thriving career and an enjoyable union, Clay ventured into a new path—legislator. In 1806, he was elected by voters in Lexington to the state legislature, in which he spent five years serving the interests of common people (according to the website of Ohio History Central, 2010). While in office, he was also chosen twice to finish terms of men who left the United States Senate early. For the first time, in 1811, Clay was elected by Kentucky voters to a new position—a representative in the United States House of Representatives. Consequently, he was soon selected to be the Speaker of the House, a position that he would hold two more times (according to the website of Ohio History Central, 2010).

As a member of the Democratic Republicans originally, Clay became an active member of the War Hawks, a group of national legislators who supported war against Great Britain. In actuality, some even assume that Clay encouraged President James Madison to enter war of 1812, according to the website “How Stuff Works” (2008). Two years later, he was chosen as one of the American commissioners to attend the peace conference where he was influential in writing the Treaty of Ghent that ended the fighting between the United States and Great Britain. Through Clay’s persistence and hard work, the threat of Native American resistance came to an end, allowing the borders of the United States to expand westward into unclaimed territory and into northern land once a part of Canada (Bryant, 1985).

One of Clay’s most famous accomplishments was the creation of the Missouri Compromise in 1820. As a way to please both the North and the South, he proposed the agreement that permitted the admittance of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state into the union. Therefore, the number of slave states and free states had remained balanced. Another part of the Missouri Compromise dealt with the future of slavery in the United States. Clay was able to construct a line that divided states that would be eligible to have slavery and those states that were prohibited from having slavery, which would hopefully prevent any future quarrels from occurring.

Clay was also known for his nationalist views. Long after the War of 1812, Clay had been determined to bring the nation back together. He stated: “I know no South, no North, no East, no West, to which I owe any allegiance. The Union, sir, is my country.” This belief became the major idea for his national program known as the American System. Through this plan, Clay became a supporter of public roads, canals, and river improvements. He also promoted the idea of manufacturing goods within the United States instead of importing products from countries such as Great Britain and France. The final element of this national program was to create a central bank to manage money that was earned from the higher tariffs put on foreign goods. Certain areas of the country such as the North praised Clay for his nationalist ideas, while other parts of the country including the South were totally opposed to higher prices on imported goods and a more active role of the national government in banking and transportation. Clay even defended the existence of the American System by giving a speech in Congress in February 1832, which focused on some people’s negative reactions towards the growing number of tariffs that the national government was developing.

However, Clay was a man surrounded by controversy. The biggest blunder of his political career became known as “the corrupt bargain”. With the hopes of becoming the President of the United States, Clay decided to run in the election of 1824. When he did not receive enough help or attention from voters, he decided to give his support to John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson in the election. Many questioned this action because as Speaker of the House Clay had the opportunity to “encourage” other politicians to vote for Adams (Bryant, 2007). Once the election was over with, Adams is named President. However, the issue that upset many of Jackson’s followers was that Adams appointed Clay as the Secretary of State, which they felt validated the wrong-doings of Clay during the election.

After losing two more runs for president, Clay continued to play an active role in national politics. For instance, during John Tyler’s presidency, Clay believed that he could control what Tyler did including the way to vote on specific legislation. In addition, there were even reports that Clay was somehow involved in President Zachary Taylor’s sudden death, possibly poisoning him.

But, those controversies didn’t prevent Clay from being remembered as “the Great Compromiser”. As seen in the engraving created by Robert Whitechurch and Peter F. Rothermel, Clay, for the last time, kept the nation from breaking apart in 1850. Through his fiery speech, he was able to highlight the ways that the North and the South could compromise on the important issues of 1850 including the extension of slavery to the territories. Considered as one of the top United States senators in history, Clay built a legacy that other politicians tried to live up to such as Abraham Lincoln. Despite never winning a Presidential election, he did make remarkable contributions to Congress. Many politicians and historians believe that if Clay would have died in 1852, he would have been able to prevent the start of the Civil War.


Bryant, R. (2005, April 29). Henry Clay egged on War of 1812, then compromised an end. The Kentucky Memory.

Bryant, R. (2007, December 14). Though strong, Clay never became United States President. The Kentucky Gazette.

Edwards, D. (2007, April 11). The Henry Clay Estate: Enough stories for a book. The Hearld-Leader.

“Henry Clay” 27 February 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://history.howstuffworks.com/american-civil-war/henry-clay.htm> 23 July 2013. 

“Henry Clay” 24 May 2013. Ohio History Central. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/index.php?title=Henry_Clay&oldid=32138.

Kentucky’s Confederate Moss

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Clay MonumentBy Howard Muncy, North Laurel High School, London, KY

The fact that Kentucky played a pivotal role in the outcome of the American Civil War has been well documented by historians for well over a century. A border state, Kentucky represented a wealth of physical resources, a strategic logistical defense, and was very important, to both sides, with regards to a higher political symbolism. Nothing captures the significance of the desired courtship toward Kentucky’s allegiances quite as well as Lincoln’s purported quote of “I would like to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.” But what of the internal divide of its residents? Geography, economics, tradition, and social values of the diverse state became amalgamations that helped to hold Kentucky neutral at first before the state quickly abandoned that impossible task and became even more “pro-Union”. This political drift was, at times, a result of pressure from external forces. At others, however, it was the manifestation of its residents based on philosophical principles and internal regionalism. To measure the political will of a substantial number of Kentucky’s residents in the 1860’s, on the brink of war, would be an impossible task. However, some evidence does point toward a much more complex loyalty than some have traditionally cast toward the bluegrass state.

When secession and Civil War engulfed the United States in 1861, Kentucky took the precarious path of neutrality. Holding on to the rich tradition of Henry Clay’s role of compromiser (1820, 1833, and 1850) and the final pre-war attempt by John J. Crittenden, Kentucky cherished the political ability to play power broker between the antebellum hostilities of North and South up to the very end.[1] Even in the aftermath of the final federal legislative failures, Kentucky governor Beriah Magoffin tried to organize a conference of collective “border states” in February 1861.[2]  Some saw this as an attempt to exert a conglomeration of state pressure to head off the federal storm, for others; it was viewed as a backdoor for secession. The Kentucky legislature, representing a more collective and balanced representation of the Kentucky citizenry, rejected the governor’s ambitions.  The period that followed was a delicate neutrality that bought time for the General Assembly to consolidate and stave off any further serious threats of political maneuvering that may have resulted in statewide secession.[3] Following these developments closely from the national level, Lincoln’s political calculations caused him to carefully treat the state as a “large fish on the line”, neither pulling too hard nor leaving too much slack.[4]

Lincoln’s patience and prewar rhetoric of preserving the union seemed to work and Kentucky’s contribution of manpower during the Civil War is an important statistic in measuring the state’s sometimes blurred loyalty. When the Kentucky Home Guard (around 10,000 troops) is figured in, the state’s total Union contribution exceeds 100,000 troops. Confederate enlistments were estimated as low as 25,000 and only as high as 40,000.[5]  Aside from the approximate raw numbers and percentages, and far more difficult, it is useful to contemplate the motives that drove this numerical divide. Early military occupations, including Ulysses S. Grant’s success at Paducah, must be figured in, but two examples of external pressure through overtly oppressive acts are interesting to examine with actions occurring in both 1861 and 1862 by Union generals John C. Fremont and Jeremiah T. Boyle. In August of 1861, General John C. Fremont, of California fame, essentially declared martial law in the sister border state of Missouri. His troops were ordered to confiscate slaves and to execute rebels within Union lines. This action stuck a dangerous chord with Kentuckians fearful that the war was taking on an emancipation nature coupled with brutal and oppressive tactics. Even though the act correctly foreshadowed what would happen in the latter half of the war (see General Burbridge’s Order #59 in 1864), Lincoln was infuriated at the timing. Joshua Speed, Louisville native and close personal friend to Lincoln, echoed the President’s grim prognostication of Fremont’s actions in a letter to the President that relayed the potential political destruction that the general’s actions could cause within the state.[6] Lincoln, recognizing Kentucky’s volatility, quickly sent word for Fremont to modify his interpretation of the Confiscation Act that he believed to be operating within. Similarly, in 1862, General Jeremiah T. Boyle assumed federal command of Kentucky and implemented an oath of loyalty for Kentucky residents. This oath carried the penalty of banishment for those who refused and death for those who betrayed.[7] These two war years’ acts reflected an external pressure for loyalty, reactions to the acts revealed the careful game of political chess played by Lincoln, and both raise questions of Kentuckian’s allegiance based on free will and virtuous feelings of duty toward the federal union.

In addition to Kentucky’s role as a border state, before and during the war, recent scholarship has went to great lengths to examine Kentucky’s confederate sympathies in the post war years. The sentiment that Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the Civil War is a popular one. But within the historic political and cultural shifts of those Union supporters who became frustrated with the war’s legacy and aggrieved at the Radical Republicans’ Reconstruction programs that followed, microcosms of lasting Union support and loyalty exist. Some of these are born of what must be considered political anomalies, some came from a miniscule number of pre-war abolitionists, but others can be traced back to Union pride that fermented during the war. Specifically, the Appalachian region of the southeast seemed to support, at least politically, the wider aims of Lincoln’s Republican Party. For example, in 1864 when Lincoln only received 30% of the Kentucky vote (an improvement from the 1860 number) nearly 90% of Whitley and Johnson County voters showed support for him.[8] The demographics of the southeast portion of the state point to a clear separation with the economic advantages enjoyed by some Kentuckians with slavery. In 1860, African Americans made up less that 1% of Jackson County residents.[9] Even with a period of 150 years of political party transformations, Jackson County has maintained a historically high Republican registration of voters since the Civil War. As late as the election of 1888, southeast Kentucky was still casting its votes, disproportionately with the state, with the Republican Party and its Union legacy.[10]  Moreover, Appalachian residents such as Joshua, John, and Luther Muncy all traveled from Hyden, Leslie County, (as well as many other citizens from mountainous areas) to volunteer for the 47th Kentucky Regiment of mounted infantry at Irvine in October of 1863.[11] These Kentucky “highlanders” went against the prevailing political grain of the state as this was in the post-emancipation period of the war when many Kentuckians were abandoning the Union rather than volunteering for it. The 47th would go on to defend the state against John Hunt Morgan’s raiders, defend the second largest African American training location (Camp Nelson) in the nation, and engaged the Confederates at the Battle of Cynthiana.[12] Morgan’s legacy would be immortalized with a huge memorial in the Fayette County courthouse square, while the sacrifices by mountain pro-union men would largely dissipate in the state’s national identity.

Many complex factors drove these pockets on Unionism. In the Southeast, perhaps John G. Fee’s and Cassius Clay’s early messages of abolitionism launched from Richmond and Berea represented, if not socially at least physically, a gateway to Union support. Economic, ethnic, and social factors did more to align the interest of Appalachians with that of the Union than the idealistic ambitions of two of Kentucky’s most famous abolitionists. Politically, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s origins may have helped sway only a few sentiments within the state’s central and northern regions, but Kentucky’s historic role as a compromising state may have helped direct some residents to the Union cause. Throughout the war, envelopes with the image of Henry Clay and a brief inscription reminded and warned citizens of this legacy: “ Kentuckians! Beware of Traitors: ‘If Kentucky tomorrow unfurls the banner of resistance, I never will fight under that banner. I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole union- a subordinate one to my own state. – Henry Clay”.[13] External threats and violent coercion may have caused a great deal of Kentuckians to “toe the line” in the short term and eventually split from the Union cause in the long term, but pockets of lasting political support reject this as an absolute state shift toward Confederate sympathies.

A disproportionate amount of Confederate monuments within the state driven by special interest groups, adopted cultural iconography associated with southern rock and country music, as well as popular television shows (the Dukes of Hazzard) have transformed even some of the areas of staunchest historical  Union support into regions that embrace Confederate symbols. Time has seemed to moss over the complex contributions toward Kentucky’s role of preserving the Union and have replaced it with a simplistic false heritage.     

[1] James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 293.

[2] Lowell H. Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1975), 7-8.

[3] Lowell H. Harrison, Lincoln of Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000) 135

[4] Harrison, 135-6.

[5] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky, 95.

[6] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005) 390

[7] William C. Harris, Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 2011) 115

[8] Anne E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011) 115-116

[9] Marshall, 115-116.

[10] County by county Presidential Election Map of 1888 offered by The National Historical Geographic Information,  https://www.nhgis.org/System,

[11] The Union regiments of Kentucky. Published under the auspices of the Union soldiers and sailors monument association. The regimental histories and sketch of military campaigns, by Capt. Thos. Speed. Political conditions during the war, by Col. R. M. Kelly. Biographical sketches, by Maj. Alfred Pirtle. (Louisville: Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1897) Found at the KHS Library

[12] Frederick H. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (Des Moines: Dyer Pub. Co.), 1908.

[13] Henry Clay Envelope found at the Kentucky Historical Society, Online collections, 200441136-1

Ft. Pillow and Saltville: Atrocities Against African American Soldiers

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Fort PillowBy Linda Niesen, Crossroads Middle School, Lewisberry, PA


“And at Fort Pillow! God have mercy

                        On the deeds committed there,

                        And the souls of those poor victims

                        Sent to thee without a prayer

                        Let the fullness of thy pity

                        O’er the hot wrought spirits sway

                        Of the gallant colored soldiers

                        Who fell fighting on that day!” 1

When the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln did not pursue abolishing slavery or incorporating Negro soldiers into the Union army. Lincoln was working hard to retain favor with the border states, but he also needed to balance the disquiet of the northern Copperhead interests with the beliefs of the fervent abolitionists.

However, by late 1862 Lincoln was penning his Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves held in rebel states. Within this proclamation was a cautious endorsement for arming African Americans. 2  The depletion of the regular Union army and losing northern effort necessitated a powerful action by Lincoln.

The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was born via recruitment drives that raised 166 regiments. A total of 7122 officers and 178,895 enlisted men served in the USCT, and most were former slaves. 3  The Negro soldiers were mustered into the Union Army much to the horror and disgust of the southern sympathizers. Late in 1862 Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered government forces to turn over black Union troops to the state authorities if captured, and both white officers and runaway slaves would then face the death penalty. In the end, the Davis administration found this unworkable, but Confederate officers often established their own policies and as a result, wartime atrocities against the USCT were commonplace. 4

One of the most infamous events occurred north of Memphis Tennessee along the Mississippi River at Ft. Pillow. Ft. Pillow was first a Confederate fort, then a Union army garrison commanded by Major Lionel Booth. The fort was maintained by 262 black troops with another 265 white soldiers there to maintain an armed presence in the area due to Confederate raids and guerilla attacks.

A commanding leader among Confederate raiders and generals at this time was Nathan Bedford Forrest. In March of 1864, Forrest was leading a cavalry division on a raid into western Kentucky and on the return south, Forrest and his 1500 men committed the Ft. Pillow massacre. On April 12, 1864 Forrest’s men attacked the fort. They were rebuffed several times but gained an advantage with each assault and maintained the high ground on surrounding hills and knolls. Their sharpshooters wreaked havoc on the Union troops. 5   Confederate losses were fairly low (14 dead, 86 wounded). Union losses were much heavier (231 killed,100 wounded,276 captured).6

One controversial issue that has surrounded this event is whether the Union troops, now led by Maj. William Bradford after the death of Booth, actually surrendered to the Confederates.  Forrest claimed that he demanded the surrender, threatening that if it was refused he could not be “held responsible for the actions of his men.”7 The Confederates claimed Bradford refused and the garrison was open for attack.

The second key controversy began at this point. The overwhelmed Union troops fled the fort, many choosing what they felt was safety in the Mississippi River. The river literally ran with blood as the Negro soldiers were chased down by the southern troops and slaughtered. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing bowels ripped open by Bowie knives, bayonets through the eyes, burnt bodies, and colored soldiers being nailed to the walls of the fort.8  Colored troops threw down their guns and begged for their lives. They were massacred, as Forrest offered them no quarter. The Negroes that could still move were forced to stand-up so they could be shot. Many were hung. Forrest’s field commander claimed, “the mongrel garrison had been taught a memorable lesson.”9

Many northerners immediately called for retribution. Abraham Lincoln turned to his cabinet and solicited their opinions on what actions should be taken. He received replies varying from insistence on the punishment of Forrest and officers, to elimination of the prisoner exchange.10  In the end, no response was deemed appropriate that would not escalate the war. At that time, Lincoln was running for re-election and was careful to try and appease his congressional supporters as well as the voting public. No formal action was taken against the Confederate troops, and those accounts of the event made during the subsequent investigation would not confirm the detailed reports made by the Union soldiers. “What happened at Ft. Pillow was no different that what happened at a dozen other battles under Union generals,” said military historian Dr. Brian Wills. “(U.S.) General Sherman later acknowledged that what happened at Ft. Pillow was one of those unfortunate consequences of war and Forrest could not be held responsible for it.”11

The other 1864 massacre occurred in Virginia on October 2nd and 3rd. Also in this event, colored regiments comprised of freedmen, ex-slaves, and slaves were part of the Union troops. Kentuckian Gen. Stephen Burbridge formed the 5th US Colored Cavalry and led these troops towards Saltville Virginia, home of a valuable Confederate salt reserve used for processing food and tanning leather. Unfortunately for the men of the 5th, they were subject to insults by their fellow white Union soldiers, with jeers, taunts, and outrages committed against them such as stealing their horses.12

As they made their trek to Saltville, Burbridge’s men were joined by troops from the 12th Ohio Cavalry and the 11th Michigan for a total of about 5000 troops. The Confederates were quickly reinforcing for the battle and now topped out at 2500 men. On October 2nd the battle began during the morning hours. When Confederates saw that black soldiers were among the advancing brigade, they became enraged. The sight of “their homeland being threatened by armed Negroes” was their greatest nightmare being realized.13  The fury they displayed upon seeing the black soldiers allowed the Confederates to stall until reinforcements arrived. By the end of the day, the Virginia salt works remained in southern hands.

George D. Mosgrove, a Kentucky cavalryman reported hearing shots fired the next day and assumed the fighting had resumed. Mosgrove mounted his horse and approached the area, only to see Confederates “shooting every wounded Negro they could find.”14   He described hearing shots being fired all over the battlefield. Mosgrove entered a small cabin where he saw “seven or eight slightly wounded Negroes standing with their backs against the walls.” In a moment, a young man entered and “shot all the black soldiers.”15

Confederate captain Edwin O. Gurrant recorded that “the continual singing of the rifle sung the death knell of many a poor Negro who was unfortunate enough not to be killed yesterday. Our men took no prisoners. Great numbers of the black men were killed yesterday and today.”16  Another eyewitness was Lt. George Carter of the 11th Michigan Cavalry who watched the killing of eight or nine blacks. “I couldn’t tell whether or not citizens or soldiers did the killing of the prisoners,” stated Carter, “ as all seemed to be dressed alike.”17  CSA Pvt Lee Smith of the 4th Kentucky Cavalry later recalled, “ we surely slew Negroes that day.”18

Like Ft. Pillow, no officers were placed on trial for this slaughter. Saltville oral history says the executed soldiers were dumped in a sinkhole and a pigpen was erected on the spot to cover the crime.19

To this day, the severity of these massacres and the facts about them are disputed among historians and societies dedicated to honoring the fallen in the Civil War. But the truth remains that the colored soldiers fought and died for their freedom and their country, and the treatment they suffered at the hands of soldiers on both sides are a blot on our American history.


1. Dunbar, Paul Lawrence, “The Colored Soldiers”. American History. ABC-CLIO, 2009. Web 7.

2. Ibid, Dunbar.

3. Ibid,Dunbar.

4. Urwin, Gregory, “The Civil War’s Black Soldiers,  www.nps.gov/history/online_books/civil_war_series/2/sec19.htm

5. Rickard, J.(3 September 2007). Ft. Pillow Massacre 12 April 1864, www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fort_pillow_1864

6. Ibid, Rickard.

7. Ward, Andrew, River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War, (New York: Viking Press,2005.)

8. McClymer,John F, “What Happened at Ft. Pillow,” ww1.assumptoin.edu/users/McClymer/hist130/p-h/pillow

9. Ward, River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War.


10. www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/inside.asp

11. www.Tennesseehistory.com/classroom/’The Battle of Ft. Pillow”/htm.

12. Brown, David E. “Was there a Massacre at Saltville?” http://home.comcast.net/`5thuscc/massacre.htm

13. Ibid, Brown.

14. McKnight, Brian,” The Winnowing of Saltville: Remembering a Civil War Atrocity” . Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Fall 2009. P. 38

15. Ibid, McKnight, p. 39.

16. Brown, “Was there a Massacre at Saltville?”

17. Ibid, Brown.

18. Ibid, Brown.

19. Moxley, Tonia, “Remembering the Saltville Massacre,” Southern Exposure; Making a Killing, 2003, vol. 31, no. 3.

Letters Home and the Battle of Perryville

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

Perryville2By Clifford Smith, Strasburg Elementary School, Strasburg, CO

Following the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862, Andrew Phillips wrote home to his family about the condition of his son George.  George had apparently participated in the battle of Perryville but was not physically injured.  George was suffering from pneumonia. 

George also suffered from one of the ailments of many Civil War soldiers, diarrhea.  Areas of the United States during the Civil War created conditions that grew a perfect environment for dysentery and diarrhea. Soldiers lived crowded together; ate poor diets of fried meat, bread, and coffee; used the same pan to cook their meal that they used to wash up; and went to the latrine upstream from their camp. These types of disorders were the most common illnesses on both sides of the Civil War and they killed more men than battlefield wounds did.

From the text of Andrew Phillips’ letter:  “The Dr has just spoken to me about George he says he has not fever now & thinks as I do that the excitement & talking to much was the cause of it yesterday I asked him about his fever & he says it is a simple case of pneumonia & nothing like typhoid the Dr tells me when he came he had become so reduced by diarhoe etc that he had to be brought in & was not able to get up alone. A number of ladies have just passed around the room to see the boys & there was a number in, in the forenoon, a company that they say comes every day, Georges lungs are quite sore and to day they put a blister plaster on his bread which he did not like very well but I try to keep him composed & when he heats I sit behind him & let him lean back against me & ease his back though he does not complain of his back the ladies sometimes bring in little dainties for the boys they say.”

“11 o’clock: the Dr has just passed by & says he thinks George is better.”   Even though the letter to his family stated that George’s health was steadily improving, his condition took a turn for the worse and he died on December 19, 1862. 

The archives of the Civil War around the United States are rich with the written word from the soldiers.  Letters, diaries, and other types of communications give us a glimpse to the human side of this conflict.  Letters like the one of the Phillips family show us in vivid detail the human cost of war.

The Battle of Perryville had been fought October 8, 1862.   The battle resulted in the finalization of General Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky.  The battle ended with a tactical victory for the Confederacy.  This continued the Confederate Heartland Offensive.  In the summer of 1862, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had launched an invasion in the border state of Kentucky. Bragg was hoping to divert Union attention from the Southern strongholds at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, as well as to encourage local volunteers to join the Rebel army. Even though he was unsuccessful in getting many volunteers, the Kentucky Campaign did draw Federal forces out of northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee.  As a result it would take the Union almost a year to regain the territory that was lost.  The largest engagement fought in Kentucky during the Civil War, the Battle of Perryville resulted in a Confederate tactical victory. The heavy fighting and bloodshed during the battle and later in the area forced Bragg to retreat into Tennessee. During the battle, the Confederates gained an early advantage because they were able to exploit the poor communication among various elements of the Union armies. Union forces were later reinforced to the left of their line, the Federal troops held their ground and pushed some of the Confederate troops back into the town of Perryville itself. Union reinforcements arrived late.  Bragg, being confronted by a larger enemy army and starting to run low on supplies, Bragg withdrew toward the Cumberland Gap. Bragg’s army would not return to Kentucky during the war.

The aftermath conditions of the battle are not unique to this area.  Most areas that experienced a battle during the Civil War suffered effects that were similar to these.  The approximate 300 residents of Perryville found themselves in the center of a scene of almost unbelievable horror. Battlefield medicine was a horror story in itself.  After the battle ended the nearby towns and villages held more than 7,500 dead and wounded soldiers.  The townspeople were left with the task to bury the dead, heal and feed the sick and wounded.  The other result of the battle was the destruction of the farms and homes in the area.  Hundreds of battle ridden corpses littered the field. Burying the dead, which was an already unpleasant task, was made worse when the workers found that many of the bodies had attracted the attention of hogs and other battlefield scavengers.   Attempts were made to fashion barricades to deter the scavengers from devouring the fallen soldiers.

The Battle Perryville has always been one of the forgotten battles in Civil War history. Prior to my visit here I also had only heard of the battle but knew very little about it.  The site has been preserved by many reputable historians working in the area.  The battlefield site is one that a visit to this part of Kentucky should always include. 



[1] Phillips, Andrew.  Letter by Andrew Phillips from Hospital 10, Louisville, Kentucky, October 19, 1862.  (4 Pages), SC1038, Kentucky Historical Society. 

[2] Sanders, Stuart W.  Perryville Under Fire.  Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2012.

[3] Noe, Kenneth W.  Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle.  Lexington, Kentucky.  The University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

[4] Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  Volume 16, pp. 1021-1134. Washington, D.C.  U. S. Government Printing Office, 1886.

Choosing Sides

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

HorsfallBy Katherine Bush, George Washington High School, Charleston, WV

I am focusing this essay on gathering background information that I can use to help teach my students about the Civil War and the difficult decisions that people made when it came to deciding on which side they would fight. I was intrigued by the story of William H. Horsfall, because of how old he was when he made those serious decisions. He was 15 when his actions led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor. That is the age of my students and I believe that using his story will help them have more historical empathy and will help me to fulfill the following West Virginia Social Studies Objectives.

Grade 10: Social Studies Standard: Civics

Objective: Students will

SS.10.C.3: evaluate then defend the importance of the fundamental democratic values and principles of United States constitutional democracy. Consider conflicts between individuals, communities and nations, liberty and equality, individual rights and the common good, majority rule and minority rights, and the rule of law vs. ethics (e.g., civil disobedience).

SS.10.C.4: define the duties of citizens that are necessary to preserve US democracy (e.g., become informed and active in a democracy-through jury duty, paying taxes, public forums (local, state, and/or federal), voting and conscription.).

Why do men go to war? For centuries, people have asked this question. Today, with social media, imbedded journalists and 24 hour news channels, young men and women have a good idea what they are getting into if they volunteer to go and fight. The Civil War was different because the young men really did not know what “modern” war would be like. Yes, there was a draft, but there were men who enlisted who were too old for the draft and there were boys who were too young. Patriotism and a belief that your views were correct played a role, but boredom and a need for a job definitely had a big part in why men enlisted in this war.

Once you were in the army though, then you had to prove yourself. You had your comrades to protect and you were being shot at, whether you carried a gun or not. In recognition of the bravery that these men were exhibiting, in 1862 Congress began a discussing series of proposals that would ultimately result in the Medal of Honor (Congressional). IN 1863, President Lincoln signed into law a measure that called for an award that was known as the U.S. Army Medal of Honor. This medal was to be given to “…such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” The Medal of Honor would be our nation’s highest military decoration and since 1863, it has been awarded to 3,458 men and one woman (Cohen).

What those numbers do not tell you, is that this award for bravery has been given to young boys – so young that they were not drafted into the military, they joined on their own. The youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor is William “Willie” Johnston from St. Johnsbury, Vermont. At the age of 11, he was a drummer boy in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. Because of his actions and bravery in the Wilderness Campaigns, he was awarded the Medal of Honor when he was 13 years old (Medal of Honor).

William Horsfall of Kentucky became Kentucky’s youngest Medal of Honor recipient at the age of 15. Like Johnston, Horsfall began his military career as a drummer boy. He earned the medal because of his bravery in helping pull an officer to safety at the Siege of Corinth in May 1862 (Kentucky Military). The reason why either of the two boys volunteered to go to war has been lost. Yet they did go to war and, at a young age, both boys showed great bravery under terrible conditions.

In 1863, Confederate forces would capture William Horsfall and he would ultimately end up being held as a prisoner of war in Andersonville. A common practice in the early years of the war was to exchange prisoners, not keep them as prisoners of war. At the Battle at Fort Donaldson (TN) in 1862, Union forces captured 15,000 Confederate troops. The scale of battle (this ‘modern’ warfare) and capture of soldiers was so great, that it presented problems for the army that they had not dealt with before: what do you do, logistically, with all of these men? A system of exchange was established: one, which set a ratio for the exchange. A commanding general had to be exchanged for an officer of equal rank, or sixty privates, captains or lieutenants could be exchanged for an officer of equal rank or four privates, thus solving the problem of how to take care of and feed so many prisoners (Roberts, 12-14).

This system, which did face some criticism for a variety of reasons from Northern politicians, remained in place through mid 1863. By that time, the opinion that the war would soon be won had changed to the belief that it would be a long, deadly war of attrition. The Emancipation Proclamation is the straw that broke the back of the prisoner exchange program. African Americans could now serve in the U.S. Army, and the Confederate government had stated that any African American captured in battle would be executed and any white officer who was in charge of a black unit would also face execution. Ulysses S. Grant, who was in charge of the Union Army by this time, signed an order ending all prisoner exchanges. He believed that this war would drag on and he knew that the North had an advantage of population to fill the ranks of the military. Why give the South an edge by returning their soldiers so that those men could come back and fight another day (Roberts, 15-16)?

While prisoner exchanges were still being done, prisoner camps had been located near the battle lines, which in the East was near the Richmond, VA area. After the exchange was ended, Union prisoners began trying to escape and there was a very real fear that a large number of Union prisoners would escape and take revenge on the populace. The Confederate government made the decision to relocate the camps to remote areas deep in the South. Andersonville Prison Camp was located in a remote area of southwestern Georgia. It sat on land that had a small creek that ran through the middle and it had been cleared of trees (the timber being used for railroads and building purposes elsewhere). The camp was open for approximately 14 months (February 1864 – May 1865) and housed over 33,000 prisoners in extremely overcrowded and filthy conditions (although it was only supposed to house 10,000). There was a food shortage in the South and the prisoners existed on raw pork and corn meal that was mixed with ground up shucks and cobs to make it stretch. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died in the camp form starvation and disease (Roberts, forward xi-xii; McElroy, 7-9).

Now imagine that you are a 15-year-old William Horsfall who has been captured and now sent to Andersonville Camp. He was one of about 33,000 other prisoners who were jammed together, without shelter, adequate food or water and no latrines. John Ransom was a 20-year-old Brigade Quartermaster with the 9th Michigan Cavalry when he was captured and sent to Andersonville. He kept a diary of his life as a prisoner of war. In mid March 1864 (before the Georgia weather really began to heat up and before the huge number of prisoners swelled the prison population), Ransom wrote:

“Get almost enough to eat, such as it is, but don’t get it regularly; sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. Six hundred more prisoners came last night … Andersonville is situated on two hillsides, with a small stream of swampy water running through the center, and on both sides of the stream is a piece of swamp with two or three acres in it. We have plenty of wood now, but it will not last long. They will undoubtedly furnish us with wood from the outside, when it is burned up on the inside, a very unhealthy climate. A good many are being poisoned by poisonous roots, and there is a thick green scum on the water. All who drink freely are made sick, and their faces swell up so that they cannot see (Ransom, 54).”

Conditions were only going to get worse as summer approached and as more and more men were transported to and kept at Andersonville. The water supply for cleaning, drinking and cooking was that one small stream that ran through the middle of the camp. It was fouled by sewage because there was no place to put a latrine that would not mix in with the water supply. As if the lack of food, disease, climate and overcrowding were not enough, the men who had joined the Union army came from many different socio-economic backgrounds. Many men did not join the military because they were patriotic or viewed this as a service to their country; instead they were drafted or joined for adventure or to escape conditions at home. In the prison camp, this resulted in violent gangs who terrorized their fellow inmates. John McElroy had joined the army in 1863 as a 16 year old. He had been born in Greenup, KY, and when he enlisted, he was a high private in Company L of the 16th Illinois Cavalry. He was captured in 1864 and was sent to Andersonville. After the war, he wrote a book about his experiences at the prison camp. The men who terrorized the camp came to be called Raiders, and McElroy states that most of the Raiders came from New York and were criminals and thugs who used fists, sticks, brass knuckles, smuggled knives and slingshots as weapons to threaten and steal from the other prisoners. Men in the camp formed a group of Regulators to try and stop the Raiders. Conditions finally became so bad that the prison officials had to step in and six Raiders were sentenced to be hanged for their actions (McElroy 73-88).

Men were dying and men were going crazy from the conditions in the camp, yet nothing seemed to done to relieve their suffering (McElroy, 73-74). The commander of the camp, Henry Wirz, did not initiate changes to make life any easier for the inmates. As Union General William T. Sherman advanced through Georgia, Confederate General John H. Winder began to look for sites to relocate the Andersonville prisoners (Roberts, 81-83).     

After the war, Wirz would be put on trial for his actions at Andersonville. At his trial, Joseph Jones, Surgeon for the Confederate Army described his visit to Andersonville. He had been sent by the Surgeon General of the Confederate States of America to investigate the conditions. He talked about the conditions, disease (typhoid, typhus and malaria), overcrowding and starvation that were endemic to such a prison camp in its location (Ransom, 259-280). In part because of this testimony, Wirz was sentenced to death as a war criminal (Roberts, 133). Yet, on the grounds of the former prisoner camp, there is a monument erected in 1909 by the Daughters of the Confederacy that is dedicated to the memory of Captain Henry Wirz (Roberts, 222-226).

The three young men, Horsfall, Ransom and McElroy, survived Andersonville. We do not know what led them to enlist in the military, at such a young age, but they did and they suffered greatly from that experience. After the war, William Horsfall became a songwriter and carpenter. He died in Newport, KY on October 22, 1922 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery Southgate, KY (Medal). John Ransom returned to Michigan where he went into the publishing business. He later moved to Chicago where he died in 1919 (Ransom, 283). John McElroy was also in the publishing industry as a newspaper editor and a writer. After the war he lived in Chicago, Toledo, and later Washing, D.C. where he lived until his death in 1929 (McElroy, 351).


Works Cited

Cohen, Jennie. “The Medal of Honor: Six Surprising Facts.” Available at: http://history.com/news/the -medal-of-honor-6-surprising-facts. Date accessed: 5 July 2013.

Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Available at: http://www.cmohs.org. Date accessed: 5 July 2013.

Kentucky Military History Museum. Exhibit and plaque honoring William Horsfall.

McElroy, John. This was Andersonville. New York: McDowell Obolensky Inc., 1957.

Medal of Honor News. “Inspiring Column about 11 Year Old Medal of Honor Recipient.” Available at: http://www.medalof honornews.com/2011/02/columnist-doug-dickerson-recently.html. Date accessed: 8 July 2013.

Ransom, John. John Ransom’s Diary. New York: Paul S. Eriksson, Inc., 1963.

Roberts, Edward F. Andersonville Journey: The Civil War’s Greatest Tragedy. Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1998.

“My Sister Southern States”

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

MagoffinBy Stephen T. Lynch, Wilmington High School, Wilmington, MA

At the onset of the Civil War, Kentucky possessed many strengths and was a most sought after prize border state for both the Confederacy and the Union. Kentucky was strong agriculturally and consequently a very wealthy state by virtue of its profitable hemp production. Internally, Kentucky boasted itself with a great transportation system and was viewed by both sides as a crucial conduit to victory if one could secure its loyalty. Kentucky’s population of well over a million citizens could potentially fill the need for troops to both armies. Kentucky’s greatest strength may very well have been its strong political leaders. Beriah Magoffin’s political maneuvering in the early stages of the Civil War was designed to keep Kentucky out of the conflict. Magoffin’s posturing had the opposite effect, allowing Kentucky to remain loyal to the Union and cemented Kentucky’s role as the pivotal Border State for the remainder of the war. Before the first shots rang out at Sumter, Lincoln desperately knew how vital Kentucky’s role would be for Union victory stating, “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us.”1.

Governor Magoffin did not overtly promote secession but orchestrated pro-southern political maneuvering behind the scenes and opposed Lincoln at virtually every opportunity. Magoffin and Kentucky were heavily divided in terms of where their loyalties lay. Most Kentuckians supported slavery as well as the Union, many, on the other hand, supported slavery and the Confederacy. Governor Magoffin’s legislature was pro-Union at this juncture, the two were incompatible. Politically, Kentucky’s citizens were a virtual melting pot of allegiances and affiliations each with their own views on what path Kentucky should follow as the war commenced. Among them were Unconditional Unionists which included abolitionists and emancipators, Republicans and Old Line Whigs in the mold of Henry Clay and Lincoln, States Righters and Secessionists, pro-slavery hard liners and moderates. Many were simply citizens loyal to the Union who strongly supported the rights of slave owners. Placating this menagerie of political soup was no small task for Magoffin, who also was a staunch supporter of slavery. “I do not believe slavery to be wrong,” he said to the legislature; ” I do not believe it to be a moral, social, or political evil.”2.  Magoffin had many political options at his disposal. Personally he supported a state’s right to secede and believed that many southern states were being violated by the federal government. Magoffin decided to call a special session of Kentucky’s General Assembly for the purpose of holding a convention to decide if secession was in Kentucky’s best interest. The pro-Union legislature voted down the reality of seceding instead voting affirmative, and with the proclamation of Magoffin, adopted a policy of “strict neutrality.”3.

Many Kentuckians were satisfied with their neutral status regarding the war, they felt,  at this point, that the best way to protect slavery was to remain in the Union. As unpleasant as this may have been for many, they reasoned that the alternative, secession, would be the death knell for slavery. Magoffin’s response to the neutrality stance was to arm his state with the State Guard. He was preparing Kentucky for the myriad of possibilities that may have come Kentucky’s way, including secession. Lincoln had an entirely different view regarding Kentucky’s neutrality seeing it as tantamount to hostilities, in particular, armed neutrality. In his first message to Congress since the war began he stated, “In the border States there are those who favored a policy which they call “armed neutrality” – that is the arming of those states to prevent the Union forces passing one way, or the disunion, the other, over their soil. This would be disunion completed.”4. Neutrality was short lived in Kentucky, less than four months. It came to an end when Confederate troops entered western Kentucky prompting the Kentucky legislature to declare Kentucky a pro-Union state. The legislature defended its decision by claiming its status as a neutral state in the Civil War, was violated. Magoffin showed his displeasure with the General Assembly and vetoed their decision. In turn, the legislature promptly overrode Magoffin’s veto. Not surprisingly, many pro-southern legislators and citizens formed their own government and joined the Confederacy.

When President Lincoln called on the loyal states for 75,000 men to volunteer to put down the rebellion, each state was required to contribute their share. Kentucky’s contribution was to supply four regiments. Governor Magoffin had a dilemma on his hands, particularly now that he was a “Union” governor. Magoffin refused to comply with Lincoln’s request by responding, “I say, emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister southern states.”5. Magoffin was further angered when Union recruitment camps were set up in central Kentucky for the purpose of enlisting loyal to the Union Kentuckians. Magoffin sent a furious letter to President Lincoln indicating his displeasure. In it he wrote, “….as Governor of the State of Kentucky, and in the name of the people I have the honor to represent, and with the single and earnest desire to avert from their peaceful homes the horrors of war, I urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky the military force now organized and in camp within the state…”6. Lincoln was clearly annoyed with Magoffin’s request to remove federal troops from a loyal Union state, he responded to Magoffin’s letter with his own carefully worded rebuttal, he wrote, “…Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it…”7.

As the number of Union troops began to grow larger in the Bluegrass State, Kentucky gradually began to evolve into a pro-southern state. One reason was the growing resentment of Union troops violating ordinary citizen’s personal rights. Certainly the most compelling reason for Kentucky’s allegiance transformation was the enlistment of African-Americans into the Union army. One of the results of this was the escalation of guerrilla warfare within the confines of Kentucky, plunging the state into a landscape of terror and bloodshed. By the end of 1861, thousands of Union troops occupied Kentucky and Governor Magoffin could do little to prevent the onslaught and shortly thereafter he agreed to resign. In hindsight, Magoffin’s political machinations to prevent Kentucky from turning into a pro-Union state actually had the opposite effect. His decisions single-handedly transformed Kentucky into a Union state and had he not interfered with President Lincoln, perhaps the outcome of the Civil War would have been different.


  1. Harris, William, C. Lincoln and The Border States. Preserving The Union. Lawrence,Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2011, 3.
  2.  Harrison, Lowell, H. The Civil War in Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky. The University   Press of Kentucky, 1975, 6.
  3.  The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, New Perspectives On Civil War – Era Kentucky. Volume 110, Nos. 3&4 – Summer/Autumn 2012, 258.
  4. Harris, 93.
  5. Harrison, 8
  6. “The Neutrality of Kentucky.; Important Correspondence Between Gov. Magoffin and President Lincoln. September 7, 1861.<www.nytimes.com/1861/09/07news/neutrality/correspondence-between-gov-magoffin-president.html.>
  7. Ibid.

Louisville – The Gateway to the South and the Stronghold for the North

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

PhillipsBy Anne Thacker, Lassister Middle School, Louisville, KY

On October 19, 1862, just eleven days after the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), Andrew Phillips wrote a letter home to his family from Louisville, Kentucky where he was staying with his hospitalized wounded or ill son. He told his family of his son’s health and described the many conversations he has with Louisvillians about the current issues, such as Kentucky and Louisville’s differing opinions on the Emancipation Proclamation and the cowardly tactics of “Old Buell” (Don Carlos Buell) at the Battle of Perryville[1].

Louisville, Kentucky was a strong hold for Union forces even though it was largely invested in the South because of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that led from Louisville to New Orleans.  However, it ultimately was a major factor for Kentucky to stay in the Union. It was the center of planning, supplies, recruiting, and transportation for numerous campaigns by the United States. [2]

When the United States was on the brink of war with the South, Kentucky had to make a decision: stay in the Union or succeed with the South. James Speed, who was a prominent Louisville lawyer and owned a large hemp plantation, sided with his brother, Joshua Frye Speed, and tried to convince the rest of Louisville as 50,000 gathered at the Jefferson County Court House to hear him speak.  As soon as the war broke out at Fort Sumter, Louisville spent $50,000 to defend the city. Lovell Rousseau was names Brigadier General and formed the Home Guard, who secretly received riffles from President Lincoln who knew he could not lose Louisville to the South if he hoped to keep Kentucky.[3]

Because Louisville had such a large slave market that used the Ohio and Mississippi River to send African American slaves and goods south, there were many secessionists supporters ready to help the Confederacy when the time came. Confederate supporters sent uniforms, lead, bacon, coffee, and war materials by the rivers and the L & N Railroad (Louisville & Nashville Railroad). On July 10, 1861 a federal judge in Louisville ruled that the United States government had the right to stop shipment of good from going south over the L & N Railroad, which hindered the secessionists efforts and helped keep Louisville and Kentucky in the Union.[4]

By 1862 both the South and the Union new how important Louisville was to both of their causes. President Lincoln had promised to keep the city safe while Confederate General Braxton Bragg and Major General Edmund Kirby Smith met in Tennessee to plot an invasion of Kentucky and Louisville. They set as a goal the destruction of the Louisville canal so completely that “future travelers would hardly know where it was.” When Frankfort was taken by the South, Louisvillians went into a panic. Martial law was enacted and drills were conducted by all able men between the ages of 18 and 45. Women and children were ordered to prepare to evacuate the city to Jeffersonville, Indiana. [5]Small skirmishes breakout on the east side of the city in Fern Creek and Middletown with the Union soldiers taking control, but a battle never occurred in Louisville.

The Battle of Perryville occurred 74 miles from Louisville on October 7, 1862 and the hospitals of Louisville, including the US Marine Hospital, Crittenden Hospital at Fifteenth and Broadway, and several schools, began treating the wounded on October 10.[6] According to Andrew Phillips many of the soldiers stationed in Louisville, or otherwise hospitalized in Louisville, believe that Perryville would not have been as gruesome if “Old Buel” had realized to help. The soldiers say he was between two and five miles away from “the boys being cut up and didn’t help”. [7] Buell never really understood the Battle of Perryville. He believed Braggs was retreating. While the battle was taking place Buell was planning battle tactics to control the water source during a horrible drought and road ways in Perryville for a battle the following day. He had no idea the battle was occurring. The atmospheric phenomenon known as “acoustic shadow” masked the sound of small arms fire at headquarters. Since he could not hear the battle, when aides and subordinates slowly began arriving and describing a major Confederate assault, Buell did not entirely believe them. In the end he shifted just enough units to stem the final Confederate assault, while continuing his planning for a battle the next day.[8]           

The Union drove the Confederate troops out of the state capital, which allowed Louisvillians to breathe without the threat of an attack. Louisville would never be attacked and stayed a stronghold for Union forces throughout the end of the war. Andrew Phillips stayed with a family for a week while he was in Louisville. The family consisted of a son-in-law who was a lawyer. After the Emancipation Proclamation given by President Lincoln, many Kentuckians were against the Proclamation and caused some to join the cause of the South. The son-in-law told Phillips that it was true that many Kentuckians were against the Emancipation Proclamation, but that Louisville was different. Urbanized Louisville rarely sided with the rest n of rural Kentucky and nothing would change on this issue.[9] Many Louisvillians were pro-Emancipation Proclamation and would stay with Lincoln and the Union. Yes, there were Southern supporters in Louisville, but Unionists outnumbered them.       

Louisville has always been different from the rest of Kentucky. It’s location on the river and on the border from being a northern city had huge influence in the Civil War. Although Louisville is known as “the gateway to the South”, it would ultimately keep Kentucky in the Union and starve the South of the many supplies that could have been sent down the river. Without the stand of Louisvillians, the south would have resources and may have gained Kentucky. With Louisville on its side it may have been able to pull off what they intended.

[1] Letter by Andrew Phillip from Hospital no. 10, Louisville, KY, October 19, 1862

[2] McDowell, Robert Emmett, 1914-1975. “City of conflict: Louisville in the Civil War, 1861-1865”. With an introd. by Barry Bingham. 1962. Louisville, KY. Louisville Civil War Round Table.

[3] McDowell, Robert Emmett, 1914-1975. “City of conflict: Louisville in the Civil War, 1861-1865”. With an introd. by Barry Bingham. 1962. Louisville, KY. Louisville Civil War Round Table.

[4] Louisville Historical League. “Significant Civil War Dates in Louisville History”. www.louisvillehistoricalleague.org.

[5] The Civil War Trust. “The Battle of Perryville: An Interview with Historian Ken Noe. http://www.civilwar.org/books/interviews/perryville-battlefield-then.html

[6] Louisville Historical League. “Significant Civil War Dates in Louisville History”. www.louisvillehistoricalleague.org.

[7] Letter by Andrew Phillip from Hospital no. 10, Louisville, KY, October 19, 1862

[8] The Civil War Trust. “The Battle of Perryville: An Interview with Historian Ken Noe. http://www.civilwar.org/books/interviews/perryville-battlefield-then.html

[9] Letter by Andrew Phillip from Hospital no. 10, Louisville, KY, October 19, 1862

The Personal Side of the Civil War: Teaching History through the Kentucky Experience

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized


By Erin Peabody, Spotswood High School, Spotswood, NJ

The American Civil War cost over 700,000 American lives.  Families from across the United States and the Confederacy were touched and forever changed by the experience.  Kentucky played a unique role in the war.  President Abraham Lincoln from the beginning realized its strategic importance.  In a letter dated September 1861, Lincoln wrote, “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.  Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland.  These all against us, and our job on our hands is too large for us.”  (Harrison 3)  In the election of 1860, Constitutional Unionist John Bell received the majority of Kentucky’s votes.  Kentucky’s voters shunned native son, Republican Lincoln and one of the Bluegrass’ best orators of the time, Vice President Democrat, John C. Breckinridge.  When the Southern states seceded both before and after the firing of Fort Sumter, Kentucky pledged its armed neutrality.  Throughout the war, this neutrality became increasingly harder to maintain due to its important strategic location.  With the belief that Lincoln would protect their property rights over the 19.5% of the population that was enslaved (Harrison 1), Kentucky increasingly became intertwined with the Northern cause.  It was not until after the Civil War, when the last troops surrendered; and a public memory was being forged, did Kentucky join its Southern sisters in creating a Confederate identity. (Marshall)

In the teaching of history, there are teachers who strive to create historical empathy, different from sympathy.  Notwithstanding the validity of that type of teaching, students are being asked to identify the challenges men and women of the past faced to broaden and more deeply understand the American story.   The Kentucky Historical Society has within its walls a wealth of knowledge to be utilized and incorporated into the American classroom.  From their archives, the anguish and anger experienced by Kentucky families highlight the national dilemma of where a person’s loyalties lied during this tumultuous time. 

George Prentice was a staunch Union supporter who edited the influential Louisville Journal.  When the Civil War began, he saw his two sons, Clarence and Courtland, pledge their loyalties to the South and enlist in the Confederate Army.  While Clarence survived the war, though he was tried and acquitted for the murder of a fellow soldier, son Courtland died on September 29th 1862 from wounds sustained at the Battle of Augusta. (Register of Kentucky Historical Society, Volume 65 117) One local newspaper, remarking how he “perished in the cause of the rebellion,” touched upon the pain a parent felt on the loss of a child.  “It is not in the columns of a newspaper, it is only in the family circle or in the hush of solitude, that the emotions of a parent over such an event should have utterance.  The tears of weeping eyes and the fast-trickling drops of bleeding hearts are not for the public gaze.  The deepest agonies should be content to fold their sombre (sic) wings in the soul.  Consolation could not come from the world’s sympathy; it can be looked for only from God and his angel Time.  Nay, there are griefs (sic) that time itself has not power to allay or soothe, griefs (sic) that are like running streams are deepening their channels forever.” (Louisville Weekly Journal, October 2, 1862)  When George Prentice died in January 1870, he was memorialized in the Kentucky State House.  It was said, “His affection for his children was…intense and the loss of his elder son was a terrible blow…The joy of life was gone.  He grew old of heart.” (Records of Kentucky Legislature, 1870)

Another notable Kentucky family that saw itself “torn apart, threatened within,” was that of the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay.  Clay was strongly associated with not only the growth of Kentucky from his home, Ashland, but the growth and expansion of the nation.  He worked tirelessly throughout his life to keep the bonds of the states tight through the national debate on slavery as the nation saw its manifest destiny stretch to the Pacific Ocean. Though Henry Clay died in 1852, never seeing the nation he worked so hard to keep together thrown into its bloodiest conflict, his descendants were split on the questions of where their loyalties laid.  Two grandsons and one grandson-in-law fought with the Union while four fought for the Confederacy.  When grandson James Clay was arrested, it was noted in the New York Times. “When the Unionists of Kentucky arrested JAMES B. CLAY, they took a traitor worth having.  He was on his way, when caught to join ZOLLICOFFER’s marauding bands of Confederates in Southeast Kentucky.  He will soon grace the select party that look through prison-gates at Fort Lafayette.”  The paper further chose to remark on the memory of the family patriarch. “JAME B. CLAY is the owner of Ashland.  His treacherous treat profanes the soil that HENRY CLAY’s patriotism hallowed.  Would it not be a fit deed to confiscate that honored spot and dedicate it to the American people, as at once a monument for the nation’s love for the sire and scorn for the son?”   (New York Times, September 28, 1861)

Bringing in these most intimate of stories to the classroom will illuminate the understanding of American History.  High school students can imagine the conversations that transpired within the Prentice family.  What can a father say to save his sons from conflict?  What can a son say to convince his father that his life is now his own and his destiny is now in their own hands?  Students can debate responsibilities descendants have to preserve their family memory.  How would a grandson explain to a grandfather who devoted his life to the preservation and prestige of the United States that he is taking up arms against that which was once so beloved?   As students struggle to find their own identities as they begin to take steps into the adult world, they can see the very personal ways history affects them.  They can try to determine how the Civil War defined and changed families.  Using primary documents, as those found in the Kentucky Historical Society, can at first be a daunting exercise but can add a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the story of America.


Work Cited

Congleton, Betty Carolyn. “George Prentice: Nineteenth Century Southern Editor” Register of Kentucky Historical Society; Volume 65, 1967

Harrison, Lowell H., Civil War in Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky: Lexington, Kentucky, 1975.

Louisville Weekly Journal, September 25, 1862.

Marshall, Anne E., Creating a Confederate Memory. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2010.                                                                                                                                                                  

New York Times, September 28, 1862.

Records of Kentucky Legislature, 1870

Did the Kentucky State Guard Train Soldiers for the Confederate Army?

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

HobsonBy Jennifer Faith, Bernheim Middle School, Shepherdsville, KY

Approximately two months after John Brown’s failure to arm slaves and start a slave rebellion in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin urged the Kentucky General Assembly to reorganize the militia.  As a strong supporter of slavery, he reported to the General Assembly that “escaped slaves cost Kentuckians $700,000 annually”.  He argued that the militia was needed to protect slave property and protect citizens, by stating “The Harper’s Ferry affair warns us that we know not at what moment we may have need of an active, ardent, reliable, patriotic, well-disciplined, and thoroughly organized militia.”  1

On March 5, 1860, a law organizing the Commonwealth’s militia was signed by Governor Magoffin.  The law called for the militia to be divided into three classes.  The first class was for the Active or Volunteer Militia, this group was known as the State Guard; the second class was for the Enrolled Militia; and the third class was the Militia of the Reserves.  The Inspector General of the State Guard was Simon Buckner.  The Assistant Inspector General was Benjamin Helm, who was also President Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law.  The members of the Kentucky State Guard mainly wore gray uniforms, very similar to the uniforms worn by the cadets at WestPoint Military Academy.  These uniforms were not furnished by the state; each man paid for his own uniform.2

Given that the reorganization of the Kentucky State Guard was in response to John Brown’s failure in Harper’s Ferry, which was an attempt to incite a slave rebellion against their masters, one may conclude that many members of the Kentucky State Guard were either slave holders or sympathetic to slave holders.  This conclusion would lead to the assumption that most members of the State Guard were Southern rights supporters and therefore sympathetic to the Confederacy during the beginning of the secession crisis.  In fact, suspicions about the loyalty of those in charge of the State Guard were in question early on in the crisis.  In a letter written to Captain E.H. Hobson from Adjutant General Scott Brown in 1860, Hobson is petitioned to return artillery to the State Armory.  Hobson, however, is suspicious of the loyalty of General Buckner and refuses to return the piece of artillery.  Hobson’s suspicions would soon prove to be true.3

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Kentucky found herself to be in a desirable position, as both Confederate and Union forces realized the importance and value of having Kentucky on their side in the war.  When Kentucky declared her neutrality in the war in May 1861, few people believed that the state could remain neutral for long.  With the Kentucky State Guard favoring the Confederacy, a new group called the Home Guard was formed, with pro-Union sentiments.  The formations of opposing armed groups in Kentucky led to a confusing situation in regards to the Federal government providing weapons.  President Lincoln understood the importance of keeping Kentucky as either a neutral state, or preferably, a Union state.  In fact, Lincoln is quoted as having said “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”  In order to help the pro-Union forces in Kentucky, weapons and ammunition were needed.  President Lincoln worried that by shipping weapons to Kentucky to arm to Home Guard in defending the Union, the weapons could quite possibly slip into the hands of pro-Confederate members of the State Guard and then be turned against Union soldiers.

With both Confederate and Union forces desiring to enter Kentucky to establish forts and gain Kentucky’s valuable resources, it wasn’t long before Kentucky’s neutrality was tested.  On September 4, 1861, Confederate General Gideon Pillow crossed into Kentucky and seized Columbus.  Union leader Ulysses S. Grant responded by seizing Paducah.  This series of events ended Kentucky’s stance as a neutral state and after a vote in the state legislature, Kentucky declared herself for the Union.4

Once Kentucky declared for the Union, many members of the State Guard headed south to join the Confederate Army.  Simon Buckner refused a Union commission and became a Major General in the Confederate Army.  Benjamin Helm became a Colonel in the Confederate Army.  Overall, the majority of the Kentucky State Guard joined the Confederate Army.  In many cases, entire companies left to join the Confederate Army.  The loss of such a large number of men created a panic within the Kentucky legislature and State Militia Board.  Actions taken by the State Militia Board were too late to stop the heavy flow of guardsmen from joining the Confederacy.5

Governor Magoffin had continuously refused to furnish the quota of men for the Union Army.  Once neutrality ended, many members of the Home Guard, as well as other men from throughout the state, enlisted in the Union army.  Many towns and communities formed their own Home Guard units to provide protection to citizens from raiding armies and guerillas.  In the Ohio River community of Augusta, which is located near Maysville, the Home Guard unit that was formed in April 1861 fought a brief but important battle with Basil Duke’s Confederate troops.  On September 27, 1862, Duke’s men were headed north to Cincinnati.   Having been alerted that Duke’s men were headed their way, the Augusta Home Guard was prepared and attacked the Confederate troops, taking them by surprise.  Once Duke’s men recovered from the unanticipated attack, the fight was short lived but ferocious.  Duke later claimed “…The hand-to-hand fighting in this little skirmish was the fiercest I ever saw.”  The Home Guard of Augusta was forced to surrender, but the battle was not in vain.  Duke’s men had used up their ammunition and therefore had to turn around and head back toward Lexington.  There is a monument outside of Augusta dedicated to the eight Confederate soldiers that are buried there. 6

The most well-known group of Kentuckians in the Civil War was a Confederate group known as the First Kentucky “Orphan” Brigade.  The nickname “orphan” was the result of the heavy losses suffered in this unit, particularly officers.  Approximately 100,000 Kentuckians fought in the Union army during the Civil War.  The numbers of Kentuckians in the Confederate army are not as exact but are estimated between 25,000 and 40,000.7   The most famous Kentuckians who fought in the Civil War fought for the Confederacy, such as Sidney Johnston, Simon Buckner, John C. Breckenridge, and John Hunt Morgan.  The role that the Kentucky State Guard played in helping the Confederacy was very important.  The State Guard trained and drilled extensively prior to the end of Kentucky’s neutrality.  Many Kentuckians today view the state as a Confederate state.  Perhaps the feelings left behind by the State Guard still resonate through the Commonwealth.


1 Richard G. Stone, Jr., A Brittle Sword, The Kentucky Militia, 1176-1912, The University of Kentucky Press, 1977.

2 Jeffrey C. Weaver, Kentucky State Guard 1859-1861, New River Notes Books, 2005

3 Adjutant General Scott Brown to Captain EH Hobson, December 19, 1860, SC1271_1_1, SC1271_1_2, Kentucky Historical Society

4 Lowell H. Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky, The University of Kentucky Press, 1975.

5 The War Between the States (1861-1865), The National Guard History eMuseum, http://kynghistory.ky.gov/history/2qtr/civil_war.html

Wendy Mitchell, C.S.A take on Home Guard at 1862 Battle of Augusta, The Ledger Independent,  http://www.maysville-online.com/news/local/c-s-a-take-on-home-guard-at-battle-of/article_df9e8c58-654b-11e0-b7f2-001cc4c002e0.html

7 Garry Adelman with Mary Bays Woodside, A House Divided, Civil War Kentucky, Civil War Trust Website, http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/spring-2010/civil-war-kentucky.html

War and Remembrance: Centre College and National Disunion

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

centreBy Richard Morey, Kent Place School, Summit, NJ

The Battle of Perryville, fought on October 8, 1862, was Kentucky’s major military engagement of the war.  Though acknowledged as a close, tactical victory by the Confederates, the rebel armies could not follow this up, and subsequently began a withdrawal from the state. The Confederacy never mounted another invasion of Kentucky after this opportunity. Although the state would be the scene of several minor skirmishes for the duration of the war, “the 1862 invasion of Kentucky was the high-water mark of the Confederacy in the West.”[1]

The importance of the fighting in Kentucky is reflected in the extended coverage of the Battle of Perryville some weeks later in the New-York Tribune, edited by Horace Greeley and arguably the Union’s most influential newspaper. Featuring a front-page map with Perryville at the center, the November 12, 1862, lead article, “The Campaign in Kentucky,” took up a significant amount of that issue’s news coverage.[2]

The brutal and consequential Battle of Perryville was fought less than ten miles from Danville, Kentucky, the home of Centre College.   Like other schools in the area, Centre’s facilities were commandeered for use in medical treatment and patient recuperation, and both students and faculty undoubtedly brought food, medicine, and other supplies to the sick and wounded in Danville following the battle.[3]  But aside from Centre’s connection to the fighting in the field, the college’s students and faculty faced challenges of a different nature as it approached, endured, and remembered the War Between the States.

One startling but perhaps not exceptional incident may illuminate the tangled web of the college’s connection to the war. Toward the evening of October 8, Centre College alumnus, Lieutenant James I. Hall of the 9th Tennessee Infantry, was wounded in the torso.  After lying on the battlefield for several hours, close to midnight Lieutenant Hall was taken to the nearby Goodnight farm. Although a surgeon pronounced his wound a mortal one, Hall hung on to life for nearly two weeks. His fortunes rose when Union army Colonel Joshua Barbee sent his carriage to the farm to retrieve Hall, a boarder at the Barbee home during his college years. Although official reports and some newspapers had recorded Hall’s death, in fact he regained his health after a long convalescence in Barbee’s home. Later Hall wrote that he was

…. placed in the room which I had occupied fifteen years earlier while a student at Centre College and was treated with unremitting kindness by Colonel B. and his family….I want to mention the fact that Mr. Barbee {the father?}, although a prominent Union man, in befriending and sheltering me, was in danger of bringing suspicion on his loyalty.[4]

Stuart W. Sanders reviewed the 1890 alumni catalog, and found that 160 Centre College students had fought in the Civil War, with Confederates outnumbering Union soldiers and officers about three to one;  Sanders doubts that the number of those taking the Union side was this low.[5]

The faculty of Centre College and the associated Danville Theological Seminary had been “northern-leaning and abolitionist from the beginning.”[6]  Among undergraduates allegiances were more fluid, and for many students there was a sorting out of loyalties in 1860 and 1861.  On February 24, 1861, the crucial time between Republican Abraham Lincoln’s election but before his inauguration as the sixteenth President, Centre College undergraduate Irving Bartlett wrote that college president Lewis Green was “greatly surprised” that not all the students would enjoy the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner at the school’s celebration of Washington’s Birthday. “The old folks are just beginning to discover that they are nurturing, instead of a band of patriots, union loving men – a hotbed of secessionists and advocates of a Southern confederacy.”[7]  Indeed, shortly after his graduation in June, 1861, Bartlett joined the army of the Confederacy, serving under John Hunt Morgan in Tennessee until he was wounded in 1863.

Nearly all area schools and colleges suspended classes during the war, but Centre did not. The college operated with a smaller faculty, teaching on reduced salaries, and with an enrollment of only 57 in 1862-63, the academic year that opened just before of the Battle of Perryville. In the weeks following the attack on Fort Sumter, the college’s Deinologian Society debated these heady topics: “Would the Southern Confederacy be justifiable in resisting the reinforcement of the Southern forts?”  “Would it be in the interests of Kentucky to join the Southern Confederacy?” After considerable debate on each question, the membership decided in the affirmative.[8]

Division within the famed Breckinridge family was both statewide and localized as Kentucky braced for Civil War.  At Centre College, the split could be seen among alumni and professors.  Remarkably, in his 1885 address to the alumni the day before Centre’s senior class graduation, William C. P. Breckinridge, looking back upon his own graduation thirty years earlier, made gentle remarks about his alma mater  and the war, gentle and also ironic when placed alongside his own efforts in that war. Of his Class of 1855, Breckinridge recalled, “Nine became soldiers in a great war – five with the rank of colonel; in it their lot quit themselves like men.”[9]  No mention here or elsewhere in his address of which sides were taken in the struggle, most likely due to his audience’s understanding that this was indeed a brothers’ war in Kentucky.  Why remind those assembled of past unpleasantness, and very likely present discomfort, over divisions of the 1860’s?

But surely there were those in the audience that day aware that Breckinridge could have brought out his strong allegiance to the Confederacy three decades back.  But this distinguished alumnus, then at the start of a ten-year career representing the Seventh District of Kentucky as a Democrat in the U. S. House of Representatives, saw little to gain in haranguing those from the College who had chosen fidelity to the Union side. 

Breckinridge’s father was an unconditional Unionist whose cousin, John C. Breckinridge, had been Vice-President of the U.S. under James Buchanan. Major General in the Confederate army, and then the Confederacy’s last secretary of war.  Of William Breckinridge’s father’s four sons, two had fought for the Union, and two for the Confederacy; William was one of the two who fought with enthusiasm for the rebel states. On July 17, 1862 (possibly 1864), he had printed for posting in and around Cynthiana the following broadside:

Kentuckians! Gen. John H. Morgan has come to drive from the state the federal forces; this very night….the persecutions and oppressions to which you have been subjected will be as nothing compared to what you will suffer if Morgan be driven to from the state….Kentucky shall be free.  I am authorized to raise a company for service under Morgan.  Cynthiana, Kentucky, July 17 [10]

This breathless plea during wartime contrasts sharply with the tone of accommodation Breckinridge sought, and likely achieved, in his 1885 address to the Centre College alumni.  Younger students Hall and Barbee has their own war experiences as close to home and to the events as could be imagined.  For these Centre luminaries, the Civil War required both the commitments of battle and also the demands of recollection.

[1] Lowell H. Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky, Lexington KY: 1975, p. 57

[2]Kentucky Historical Society, Online Digital Collections (Martin F. Schmidt Collection), catalog no. 2004.41.291.     New-York Tribune, Nov. 12, 1862

[3] Stuart W. Sanders, Perryville Under Fire.  Charleston SC: 2012,  p. 59

[4] Sanders, pp. 58-60

[5] William Weston, Centre College: Scholars, Gentlemen, and Christians.  Danville KY: 2010,  p. 44

[6] Weston, p. 39

[7] Weston, p. 39, 40

[8] Weston, p. 40-43

[9] “Address Before the Alumni Association of Centre College,” June 17, 1885; 30-page pamphlet in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society.  Danville, KY: 1885

[10] From exhibition “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” Filson Historical Society, Louisville KY; viewed June 28, 2013