Field of Dreams

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

DoramBy Stephen Platt, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, MO

With the ominous specter of civil war looming in 1860, most of Kentucky’s leaders came to the conclusion that their economic and political stability and the maintenance of Kentucky’s time-honored racial codes could only be accomplished by staying in a union that respected federalism and protected slavery. Moreover, although these white leaders were sympathetic with the rebellious southern states, they knew that if Kentucky seceded, it would become a major battleground during the rebellion and that stability and those racial codes that were undergirded by slavery would be imperiled. Ironically, Kentucky became a battleground nonetheless and neutrality could not be maintained. Still, Kentucky’s white leaders hung on tenaciously to the system of slavery even as it was imploding in the rebellious states. That left black Kentuckians to strike for freedom on their own despite the state and local laws, customs, institutions, and extralegal vigilantes arrayed forcefully against them. In their bold assertion of freedom, one of the most critical staging grounds for liberation was an expansive 4000 acre field occupied by Camp Nelson, an encampment that in many ways came to symbolize black Kentuckians’ “field of dreams.”

Several Kentucky historians, most recently Anne Marshall, have argued that after the Civil War white Kentuckians began to embrace the “Lost Cause” of southern independence.1 Perhaps as a result, earlier Kentucky historians have studied the emancipation of slaves in Kentucky emphasizing its social, political, or military impact on the state from a white perspective. As late as 1974, Kentucky University graduate student John David Smith argued that “by the summer of 1864 fewer and fewer Negroes were attracted to the army by lures of freedom, the excitement of a shiny rifle, and a blue uniform.”2 Setting aside for the moment that this statement discounts the flurry of recruitment in 1864 and 1865, the idea that Smith seems to be promoting, that black Kentuckians were like children enticed to the army for a shiny new rifle, completely ignores the fact that these were human beings who risked life and limb to gain freedom for themselves and ultimately for their families. To fully comprehend the impact of black liberation, it is imperative to examine that event from the perspective of the most significant actors who made liberation a reality, the freedmen themselves. The excitement, the individual meaning, the familial and cultural impact of liberation, as well as the significance of service in the United States military, were intensely personal and evident.

In 1860, despite the fact that a minority of white Kentuckians-about twenty percent-were slave holders, most white Kentuckians saw slavery as the logical, natural answer to the biracial society in which they lived and thus opposed the idea of emancipation to the bitter end.3 Like most white southerners, white Kentuckians in essence saw the planters who dominated western and middle Kentucky as the “American dream” of success, a success that was invariably accompanied by social, political, and economic dominance. Perhaps most importantly, like much of the rest of America, white Kentuckians as a group were deeply racist. Slavery was the vital “peculiar” institution that was the cornerstone of white supremacy, even for the some of the poorest of the state’s white population.4 Thus, when Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, most white Kentuckians were aghast and outraged, despite Lincoln’s clear exclusion of Kentucky from the proclamation’s provisions. Governor Thomas Bramlette, a loyal unionist Kentuckian, sent angry letters to Lincoln suggesting that despite Kentucky’s exclusion, it would be difficult to keep loyal white Kentucky regiments in the field if they believed the fight threatened white racial superiority.5 Beyond that, escaping slaves from the rebellious states would be streaming into Kentucky and the question for both white Kentuckians and for Lincoln would quickly become how long the institution of slavery could survive in this loyal border state. The news of the Emancipation Proclamation spread quickly throughout the black south, including Kentucky’s approximately 225,000 slaves.6

Whether enslaved Kentuckians understood that Kentucky was exempt from the Emancipation was irrelevant because they fled to United States armies moving through Kentucky. Although some were returned to their former masters, many of the U.S. Army regiments refused to give up these escaped bondsmen.7 Even when escaped black Kentuckians were turned out of the army encampments, they would often return the next day, refusing to give up on the promise of freedom.8 In the same year as the Emancipation, Congress passed the Conscription Act and Secretary of War Stanton eventually made it clear that black Kentuckians would be recruited both to fill the army’s labor needs and to meet Kentucky’s draft quotas if white recruitment was insufficient.

It is absolutely correct to assert as several historians have done, that the actions of the Lincoln administration, the support of the Congress, and the subsequent actions of the War Department in Kentucky and in the other slave states made black liberation possible. But the critical element in this liberation, the sine qua non of black freedom was the determinative action of enslaved Kentuckians who struck for their own liberation. As early as 1863, the Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth newspaper published scores of advertisements for escaped slaves.9 These black Kentuckians, engrained with fear as a daily weapon in their enforced subservience, nevertheless threw off their collective yolks and strove for their freedom despite the racist violence that awaited them on the roads to their field of dreams. One of the most preeminent field of dreams they found was in central Kentucky at Camp Nelson.

Black Kentuckians risked life and limb to get to recruiting camps like Camp Nelson, braving guerrilla patrols and loyal but hostile Kentucky regiments. Vulnerable black recruits “became a special target for the guerillas.”10 Despite these dangers, “The servants of the loyal and southern sympathizers left…for these [recruiting] camps by the ‘hundreds and thousands, and [once they arrived] received protection against being reclaimed by their former masters.’”11 And this, despite determined white resistance by loyal Kentucky army officers, most notably Colonel Frank Wolford, who, echoing the sentiments of Kentucky’s governor and lieutenant governor, denounced enrollment of black soldiers as “unconstitutional and unjust.”12 In one notable incident, Kentuckians who had escaped slavery were protected by northern troops from loyal white Kentucky soldiers and that protection nearly resulted in armed conflict.13 Nevertheless, once Kentucky failed to meet its draft quotas, the War Department issued orders to “receive and enlist as soldiers all able-bodies slaves and free blacks of lawful age who applied.”14 As William Dobak, author of Freedom by the Sword asserts, “the Enrollment Act of 1864 changed everything.” It specified that male slaves, even those of loyal masters, for the first time became eligible for the draft.15 By 1864, recruitment of black Kentuckians into U.S. Army regiments was fully underway, and Camp Nelson in Jessamine County became the leading recruitment center for blacks in central Kentucky.16 Black Kentuckians struck for their freedom in droves, and so the entire draft quota for Jessamine County was quickly filled by black enlistments.17

The experience of Camp Nelson as a field of dreams is instructive in any study of the liberation of black Kentuckians. As one United States Colored Troop (USCT) sergeant remarked, “It used to be 500 miles to get to Canada from Lexington [Kentucky], but now it’s only eight miles. Camp Nelson is now our Canada.”18 USTC Elijah Maars recalled that, “Camp Nelson was overrun with troops at that time, and the place looked gay. Thousands of people were coming in from all directions, seeking their freedom. It was equal to the forum at Rome. All they had to do was to get there and they were free.”19 In 1864 and 1865, enslaved black Kentuckians struck for their freedom at Camp Nelson, but continued to do so even after the war was over. The fact that the recruits who came to enlist were escaped slaves is evident in Kentucky’s official recruitment records. The rolls of enlistment for 1864 at Camp Nelson indicated that virtually every black Kentuckian who was enlisted there identified a master by name when asked by the recruiting officer.20 Ages from the enrollment records vary generally from 17 years of age to 45 without any notation of rejection.21 By the spring and summer of 1865, there is a marked shift in the attitude of the enlisting officers evident by the absence of masters’ names in the last of the recruiting ledgers: both escaped slaves and their recruiting officers realizing that slavery was dying, and despite white Kentucky resistance, black Kentuckians not only realized they were free, but understood clearly that the most secure path to freedom at the end of the war was through enlistment. As historian Aaron Aston notes, 57 % of all able bodied black Kentuckians enlisted rapidly in 1864 and 1865.22 By late 1865, the enrollment ledgers for Camp Nelson support this fact as former slaves, from ages 16 to 63, apparently regardless of physical condition, were welcomed into the Army’s rolls.23 It becomes obvious that even after the war ended, with the enthusiastic support of the U.S. Army commander of Kentucky General John Palmer, black recruitment continued apace and thus paved the way for real racial liberation and family reunification.

Beyond the enrollment of black Kentuckians in the United States Army at Camp Nelson, it was vitally important to the current and future respect of the USCT troops that they acquitted themselves well in battle. Pervasive white Kentucky beliefs that these men were not worthy of a soldier’s uniform were shaken by the USCT troops who performed gallantly under fire. The example of the 54th Massachusetts at Ft. Wagner has been eulogized by the modern movie industry, but a lesser known and more relevant example for Kentucky is the heroism of black Kentuckians at the battle of the Salt Works in 1864. The 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry was detached from Camp Nelson and ordered to participate in the battle on October 2nd. The commanding officer, Colonel James Brisbin, in his report to his superior officer asserted that the black Kentuckians acquitted themselves very well and significantly changed the opinions of their white army counterparts: “I have seen white troops fight in twenty-seven battles and I have never saw any fight better. At dusk the colored troops were withdrawn from the enemy works, which they had held for two hours, with scarcely a round of ammunition left in their cartridge boxes. On the return of the forces, those who had scoffed at the colored troops…were silent.”24

The Congressional Act that freed the families of black soldiers before the 13th amendment was ratified helped make recruiting centers like Camp Nelson a refuge for families, and before it closed, Camp Nelson became home to thousands of women and children. 25 As historian Victor Howard asserts, “one of the most decisive blows delivered to slavery was the [Congressional] act freeing the families of black soldiers.”26 Once General Palmer, who had assumed command of Kentucky, issued General Order 10 recognizing black marriage between any two adults who asserted their spousal union, the end of slavery in Kentucky was in essence sealed if black Kentuckians made it so. And so they did. Missionary John Fee reported from Camp Nelson that the order had “really lain the axe at the root of the tree.”27 A critical catalyst in this axing of slavery in Kentucky became the “free passes” (or as white Kentuckians called them, “Palmer passes”) that allowed black soldiers the opportunity to literally liberate their families from slavery. 28 General Palmer authorized the issuance of tens of thousands of these passes to, as he put it, “drive the last nail in the coffin of the institution [of slavery].”29 Howard estimates that as many as two thirds of the remaining slaves in Kentucky became free as a result of the combination of these acts before the 13th amendment was even ratified.30 In one incident, Sergeant Elijah Maars recalls being ordered by his white commander to find the wife of a USCT soldier and bring her back:

“ …furloughs were given to the colored soldiers to return to Kentucky to see their wives and families. One of them stopped at Bowling Green, his wife living about five miles distant, on the other side of Barren River. He informed our commanding officer, Col. Babcock, that the parties she belonged to had been treating her very cruelly, and to some extent on account of he, her husband, being in the army. The Colonel immediately sent for me, informed me of these facts, and ordered me to take a guard of ten men to accompany the soldier, who acted as our guide, and to bring the woman into camp; and further, that if the man who owned her had anything to say about it or offered any resistance, to put a ball into one ear so that it might come out of the other.”31

Obviously, the colonel giving these orders embraced and enforced the actions of the federal government and of his military commanders. But the actions of the black soldiers who pushed for and actuated the enforcement resulting in the reunification of these families, were vital in freeing thousands of Kentuckians who might otherwise have languished in restrictive labor conditions. As historian Manisha Sinha argues, “African-Americans were not passive recipients of the gift of freedom…black actions helped put slavery on the national agenda.”32 Moreover, she goes on to assert, “Black military service became a powerful argument for African-American citizenship and equality.”33 Black Kentuckians who strove for freedom found it for themselves and their families in the armed service of the United States. The post war southern manifestation of the “negro convention movement,” asserted in resolution after resolution that blacks had served their country honorably and deserved the right to vote.34  And although the actual acquisition of respect and citizenship would take more generations to come, the powerful seed of equality was planted in Kentucky by those brave individuals who found and gallantly fought for their field of dreams.


1 Marshall, Anne. Creating a Confederate Kentucky (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), p. 2

2 Smith, John David. “The Recruitment of Negro Soldiers in Kentucky, 1863-1865.” The Register of the Kentucky

Historical Society, Vol. 72, No. 4 (October, 1974), p.385

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

2011) p. 263

4 Turley, Alicestyne. “Slave Resistance and Agency in Kentucky” (Berea College. Carter Woodson Center for

International Education. 2013)

5 Howard, Victory B. Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1983) p. 33

6 Ibid. p. 22

7 Ibid. p. 39

8 Ibid. Recruiting poster. NationalArchives.

9 The Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth, March 23, 1863

10 Harris, p. 265

11 Ibid., p.52

12 Ibid. p. 58

13 Howard, p. 7

14 Ibid. p. 63 Appeal to slaves to join the U.S. Army, Library of Congress.

15 Dobak, William A. Freedom by the Sword (Washington. Center for Military History. 2011) p. 383

16 Howard, p.51

17 Ibid. p.63

18 McBride, W. Stephen and Kim A. Seizing Freedom (Washington: Department of Interior, 2013) p.2

19 Marrs, Elijah. Life and History of Elijah P. Marrs (Louisville: The Bradley and Gilbert Co., 1885) p.65

20 United States Colored Troops Muster, 1864-1865

21 Ibid.

22 Aston, Aaron. Lecture (Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, June 29, 2013)

23 U.S.C.T. Muster

24 Berlin, Ira, ed. The Black Military Experience in the Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) p. 135

25 McBride, p. 19

26 Howard, p. 79

27 Ibid.Samuel Truehart, 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry

28 Palmer, John. The Personal Recollections of John C. Palmer (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke Co., 1901) p. 253

29 Ibid. p. 242

30 Howard, p. 79

31 Marrs, p.55

32 Sinha, Manisha. “Architects of Their Own Liberation: African-Americans, Emancipation, and the Civil War.

Magazine of History. vol. 27, no. 2 (April, 2013) p.5

33 Ibid. p.8

34 McPherson, James. The Negro’s Civil War (New York: Random House, 1990) p. 241-242

The Emancipation Proclamation and Changing Allegiances in Kentucky

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

HarringtonBy Keith Spencer, Gainesville Middle School, Gainesville, VA

In early January 1863, John T. Harrington, a soldier in the Union Army, wrote his sister Jennie about his recent experiences in the Civil War.  In it, he gives her information about recent battles and a meeting with Confederate prisoners of war.  While this document details his survival near Vicksburg, Mississippi, it most clearly illustrates his feelings about the recently issued Emancipation Proclamation; he was extremely displeased.  With a few simple words, John Harrington demonstrates how a Unionist Kentuckian could change his allegiance toward the South in the aftermath of the surprisingly controversial Emancipation Proclamation.  As it turns out, many people in Kentucky were not in favor of freeing their slaves.

Historians don’t know much about John T. Harrington; he was an enlisted member of the 22nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment[1]. Formed in Louisa, Kentucky in 1862, it is quite probable that Harrington joined the military as a loyal member of the Union and therefore wanted to protect slavery like many other Kentuckians.  A later letter by him to a friend suggests he simply may have joined the military to impress a girl.[2]  Regardless of his reasons for joining, slavery was a major part of Kentucky society and many citizens were against secession but supported the institution of slavery.  Called Conservative Unionism, it embraced “stability, pragmatism, compromise and tradition,”[3] which favored slavery but did not hold that secession provided any necessary solutions to the growing disagreement over the institution.  Despite the rise of a new Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, most Kentuckians believed that remaining in the Union best protected their Constitutional rights regarding property.  Therefore, Kentucky had many Union regiments.

Harrington’s letter to his sister begins with the fatalistic tempo of a veteran soldier of the Civil War.  While fighting around Vicksburg, he notes, “next week may see me in some ditch with a soldier’s honor and about three inches of dirt thrown over me”.  He continues, “I have seen war in all its horrors. . . . I have lain perfectly exhausted among the wounded the dying and the dead” [4]

The July 4, 1863 surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi, is often the timeline given for this strategic city’s fall.  However, there had been action for many months before.  Military operations around Vicksburg actually began in late 1862[5].  It wasn’t until May of 1863 that Ulysses S. Grant’s army began their siege and major battles.  The 22nd Kentucky was therefore a part of the early operations.  John T. Harrington was there as a Union soldier, but his feelings toward his allegiance were being tested by the political events of the day.

As Harrington fought around Vicksburg, Abraham Lincoln battled the issue of slavery.  Having run as a candidate to prevent the spread of slavery, by the summer of 1862 Lincoln was now ready to abolish it. Winning the battle of Antietam in September, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  It stated that on January 1, 1863 “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”[6]  While this didn’t apply to Kentucky, many of its citizens knew that slavery would likely end there too.  “Kentuckians were alarmed by the principles upon which it rested, and few citizens of the state endorsed it.”[7]

As it turns out, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was having a profound effect on Harrington’s opinion on the rightness of his cause. After this recent battle near Vicksburg he had the occasion to spend about an hour with captured Confederate soldiers.  In an astonishing turn of events he praised them:

“I spent over an hour among them [the Confederate prisoners of war] that night and on the word of a soldier they are men and men of the order of the days of [17]76 men who have their hearts enlisted in their cause who believe God is with them and even willing to favor and defend them from the hand of oppression.”[8]

Here he compared his enemy to the kinds of men one would have found during the Revolutionary War (“days of 76”); true patriots.  They (unlike the Union troops) are fighting with all their heart.   Harrington feels that God is with those soldiers and perhaps not with Union troops. 

As a Kentucky Unionist, the letter demonstrates that Harrington was in favor of slavery.  With the Emancipation Proclamation issued just three weeks prior to this letter being written (January 1st), he felt betrayed by the very government he was fighting for. When word of the Preliminary proclamation was announced in September, many “Kentucky troops . . . left their regiments and either went home or joined the rebels”[9] Harrington did not join the rebels or go home, but as the months passed, and with the official proclamation in effect, Harrington expressed his frustration:

“I enlisted to fight for the Union and the Constitution but Lincoln puts a different construction on things and now has us Union Men fighting for his Abolition Platform and thus making us a hord of Subjugators, house burners, negro thieves and devastators of private property.”[10]

Clearly, John Harrington was stating that his army, the Union army, was worse than the Confederates.  He felt that his regiment was essentially doing the work of the abolitionist Abraham Lincoln.  The reason for the war to him was to protect slavery through upholding the Constitution, but now that had been subverted.

These were strong words for a Union soldier, but perhaps not unexpected in light of Kentucky’s role as a border state. With the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, John Harrington likely realized that slavery would soon be over in all of the United States, even Kentucky. In his letter to his sister he expressed the idea that he had joined and was fighting to protect people’s property rights. He believed that the Confederates were fighting for what they believed in but that he wasn’t sure of his cause anymore.  Harrington was caught between his belief in the Union and his devotion to slavery.  With the passage of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, his allegiance to his country was being bitterly tested and would likely continue to be a struggle for him and his fellow Kentuckians long after the war.



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

[2] John T. Harrington Letters, SC57. 9, May 1863, Kentucky Historical Society.

[3] Astor, Aaron, The Crouching Lion’s Fate: Slave Politics and Conservative Unionism in Kentucky (The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, VOL. 110, Nos. 3&4, 2012), 296.

[4] John T. Harrington Letters, SC575, 19 Jan. 1863, Kentucky Historical Society.

[5] National Park Service, The Campaign for Vicksburg, History E-Library.  2013

[6] The Emancipation Proclamation, National Archives and Records Administration.

[7] Harrison, Lowell H. The Civil War in Kentucky.  Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1975, 93.

[8] Kentucky Historical Society, John T. Harrington Letters, SC575, Jan. 1863.

[9] Harris, William C. Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union.  Lawrenceville, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2011, 210.

[10] John T. Harrington Letters, SC 575, Kentucky Historical Society.

The Border State Reality of the Emancipation Proclamation

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

WolfordBy Valerie Cichy, Rhodes Junior High School, Mesa, AZ

It is clear that there are numerous misconceptions and pieces of misinformation where parts of history are concerned. Unfortunately, many of these distorted perceptions of reality come from the classroom; as, for example, when a teacher instructs his or her students that Lincoln did free all the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation in the middle of the Civil War.[1] Obviously, this is erroneous. However, it does prove the point that many Americans have been misinformed on the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation. Still, in a remotely accurate classroom, many young adults are still lead to believe that slaves were freed in the South—not very true; the South hated the proclamation—sure enough; the North loved the proclamation—not really, compromise never really makes anyone happy; and the border states were okay with it because it didn’t free their slaves—definitely not true.

In fact, the border states of the Civil War are often left out in the description of what many Americans know of the Civil War. In doing so, many assumptions are made that are definitely not true. It would be odd to believe the reality that many border states, such as Kentucky, strongly sided with the Union, while intensely siding with the continuation of slavery. Yet, the idea of staying in the Union made more sense with the belief that slavery would be better protected by staying in the Union.[2] These conflicting ideals would create strong tensions when Lincoln chose to deliver his famous Emancipation Proclamation. Would the border states support it with their support for the Union as it did not affect their property? This is the general assumption.

The assumption that border states would support and accept the Emancipation Proclamation would be incorrect. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that border states, such as Kentucky, were not supportive of emancipation. In fact, in the gradual, compensated emancipation plan, which would provide apprenticeships and release African-Americans over a longer period of time, was still widely opposed by the border states.[3] The fact of the matter is that roughly 20% of Kentucky’s population consisted of free or enslaved blacks.[4] The fears that played on the white population of these border states may have been enough, along with the loss of property values of slaves, to cause them to oppose most any kind of emancipation.

Obviously, the Emancipation Proclamation was met with a mix of emotions in the border states, as it would have been met with in the North, but in a different way. There were abolitionists in Kentucky, like the German immigrants who called for the immediate abolition of slavery[5], who may have liked the direction, but like many other abolitionists in the North would have liked the measure to go further and free all enslaved populations. Yet, for many people in the border states, how they reacted did not fit this mold of likability. This newspaper article can eloquently illustrate just how a border state responded to this proclamation by stating, “We scarcely know how to express our indignation at this flagrant outrage of all Constitutional law, all human justice, all Christian feeling”. [6] And, in fact, Lincoln did not really believe that he had the constitutional authority for this proclamation[7], yet even with Kentucky’s slaves seemingly unaffected by this proclamation, the reaction to this measure was strongly against Lincoln. In the same newspaper article, it goes on to state that “civilization should be so disgraced by an imbecile President as to be made to appear before the world as the encourager or insurrection, lust, arson and murder!”[8] These are such strong words, when technically, according to this measure, slave property was secured. This speaks to the level at which many border states opposed this measure. In addition, it also shows the fear that it was only a matter of time until their property would be illegally confiscated by the government as well.

Many border state individuals in the military were also greatly upset by the proclamation. A group of officers went so far as to begin working on tendering their resignation from the military in response to the Emancipation Proclamation. Other responses by border state military officers were to remain in the military, but refuse the order to free slaves or to enlist free Negroes into their regiment, as in the case of Col. Frank Wolford. In response to Wolford’s policies, the government was willing to remove him from the military as “violating the fifth article of war.”  As Wolford discussed, he could easily raise all-white troops, without the need for colored troops. And, as he was a strong Union supporter, he was against the confiscation of slaves and their enlistment into the military. [9] This is not very hard to consider given the social ramifications of the day. Realistically, few white men would want to serve beside colored soldiers. And, for the purpose of raising regiments of new soldiers, the decrees of only taking white men for his regiments allowed Wolford to raise his troops much faster than could be found elsewhere in Kentucky.[10] Yet, this did not follow the Union’s agenda of using colored troops to defeat the Confederacy, much to the frustration of the white members that their service meant far less.

Everyday soldiers also became aggravated at the intentions of the Emancipation Proclamation and how it changed what they were fighting for. As Charles Hanson declared that he would “not fight to free his own negroes” and “did not feel satisfied to fight in a cause so detrimental to his own interest”.[11] This idea would have been similar of many other Kentuckians in the military as many people in Kentucky had slaves, even though they were small in amount to make Kentucky to lowest per capita of slaves. [12] Thus, many soldiers would begin to leave the military, rather than to serve an army and a government that would take their property. In the end, the results of the war would not work to their advantage.

In conclusion, there are many misconceptions that exist regarding the border states and the Emancipation Proclamation. In order to clear this up, we must come to fully understand that Lincoln did not really free the slaves; the 13th amendment would accomplish that. As for the Emancipation Proclamation, it would anger the South, as well as the border states. Some individuals would follow the Union ideal and remain loyal to the United States, as in the case of Col. Wolford, but refuse to follow the actions of the Emancipation Proclamation by not confiscated property (slaves) and declining to admit any African Americans into the army. Others simply refused to remain in the military to aid a government, which in their mind, would destruct their present living standard. It is a complicated web of reality and not one that could or should be broken down to a single assumption. It is a complicated story that should be told in its entirety as it shows the problems and tensions that tell the story that was the Civil War, rather than a series of battles.

[1]Leigh Owens. “Abraham Lincoln: The Man Who Freed the Slaves?” The Blog. 19 November 2012. Retrieved from

[2] James Klotter. “Kentucky in the Civil War”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 24 June 2013.

[3] William C. Harris. “Lincoln and the Border States”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 24 June 2013.

[4] Brian McKnight. “The Border States in the Civil War”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 23 June 2013.

[5] James Klotter. “Kentucky in the Civil War”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 24 June 2013.

[6] Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth, 1-5-1863, Kentucky Historical Society.

[7] William C. Harris. “Lincoln and the Border States”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 24 June 2013.

[8] Frankfort Tri-Weekly Commonwealth, 1-5-1863, Kentucky Historical Society.

[9] Col. Wolford’s Letter to President Lincoln. The Casey County News. April 1966. Kentucky Historical Society.

[10] Col. Wolford’s Letter to President Lincoln. The Casey County News. April 1966. Kentucky Historical Society.

[11] Patrick Lewis. “All Men of Decency Ought to Quit the Army: Benjamin F. Buckner, Manhood and Proslavery Unionism in Kentucky.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 107, No. 4 (Autumn 2009), 513-550.

[12] Christopher Phillips. “Sister Border States: Missouri and Maryland in the Civil War”. Frankfort, Kentucky. 24 June 2013.

Thunderbolt, Loose Cannon, or Common Criminal?

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized


By Michael Hankins, Martinsville West Middle School, Martinsville, IN

On August 10, 1862, Thomas F. Leech wrote to a friend bemoaning the actions of the Confederate raider, John Hunt Morgan.  Leech said that he understood why the friend had not been able to write “while your country was infested with a band of as notorious robbers and murders (sic) as John Morgans was.”1

John Hunt Morgan was a favorite son of Kentucky.  Born in Alabama in 1825, the family moved to Lexington in 1831.  After serving during the Mexican War, Morgan returned to Kentucky to become a hemp farmer.  As tensions mounted with the growing secessionist crisis, Morgan formed a militia group known as the Lexington Rifles.  With the death of his wife on July 21, 1861, Morgan left to join the Confederate army.  He formed the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment and became its Colonel on April 4, 1862.  For the next fifteen months, Morgan and his men would terrorize parts of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio; and Morgan would gain a reputation as a rebel who would not follow orders.

General Braxton Bragg was Morgan’s superior and he tried to keep the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” in check.  This became harder on December 11, 1862, when Morgan was promoted to Brigadier General.  The following Sunday Bragg hoped that Morgan would calm down a bit after his marriage to Martha Ready in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  When asked why the wedding was on a Sunday, Morgan replied, “Why, everything important in my life has happened on a Sunday, and I wanted the crowning achievement, also to take place on Sunday.”2

Bragg’s hope of a more sanguine Morgan were dashed quickly when a little more than a week later, Morgan embarked on the Christmas raid of 1862.  This adventure was highly successful with the destruction of railroads, the capture of 1,877 prisoners, and the destruction of $2 million in Federal supplies.3  Arriving back in Tennessee in January, 1863, Morgan began planning for his invasion of “North of the Cumberland.”  Bragg would reluctantly give permission for the raid but ordered Morgan to not go farther north than Louisville.4  Morgan would have plenty of possible targets along the L&N Railroad as he tried to disrupt Union supply lines.5

Morgan however had other ideas and in June, 1863, sent Captain Thomas Hines into Indiana with an advance scouting party.  Hines met with Dr. William Bowles of French Lick about assistance from Hoosier copperheads in the coming raid.  Bowles told Hines that he could count on 10,000 men.6  This exaggeration may have influenced Morgan to proceed with the invasion.

Braxton Bragg may have thought of John Hunt Morgan as a loose cannon who could not be counted on to obey orders.  Thomas F. Leech certainly looked upon Morgan and his men as common criminals.  Later in his letter he remarked, “My policy would be never to aim to take any one of them prisoner but kill them wherever and whenever we can.”7  Many in Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio felt as Leech did, but many did not.  Those sympathetic to the Confederate cause saw Morgan as a hero and one willing to do whatever was necessary.  Many others actually offered help to Morgan and his men.  Colonel Lawrence S. Shuler, commander of the 103rd Indiana regiment stated, “There were few points along the line of our march where we did not find men who had been rendering assistance to John Morgan and who were then willing to do everything in their power to help him on his expedition.”8

Morgan’s men also held great admiration for their leader.  In his memoirs John Marion Porter calls Morgan the greatest cavalry leader the world, for five hundred years, has seen.9  Henry Lane Stone in his narrative of personal experience asserts “that no officer in either army was kinder to prisoners or more considerate of their rights than General Morgan.”10  Morgan himself however told of an incident in August of 1862, where he ordered his men to give no quarter and he shot a surrendering and begging Yankee at close range.11

So how did General John Hunt Morgan feel about his reputation?  On a handbill created to recruit troops he wrote, “I come to liberate you from the despotism of a tyrannical faction and to rescue my native state from the hand of your oppressors.  Everywhere the cowardly foe has fled from my avenging arms.  My brave army is stigmatized as a band of guerillas and marauders.  Believe it not.  I point with pride to their deeds as a refutation to this foul aspersion.”12  Clearly, Morgan felt he was in the right.

Morgan was killed in September, 1864, and the South lost one of its staunchest defenders and daring military strategists.  A few months later the war was over and the Union began the reconstruction process.  According to author Anne E. Marshall, by the early 1900’s Morgan was a bona fide hero to many white Kentuckians.13   A movement to erect a monument honoring Morgan in downtown Lexington culminated in the unveiling of a large statue in October, 1911. Over 10,000 people attended the ceremony including several members of Morgan’s regiment.  Everyone seemed to have forgotten any of the bad things Morgan had done.  The Kentucky State Senate appropriated half of the $15,000 needed to complete this project.14

In May of 1919, the editor of the Louisville Evening Post continued the praise of Morgan and his men when he wrote, “No doubt there were few exceptions that prove the rule, but, as a broad proposition, wherever one of “Morgan’s Men” settled, the community gained a good citizen.15  Both John M. Porter and Thomas H. Hines became prominent attorneys and Hines was later a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals.  Basil W. Duke, Morgan’s brother-in-law, and second in command, also practiced law and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1869.  Ironically, Henry Lane Stone became the general counsel for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad after trying to destroy the railroad during the war.

It would appear that today Morgan is indeed the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.”  Songs were being written about him as early as 1864 (Three Cheers for our Jack Morgan)16 and a nineteen song collection was released by David Ray Skinner in 1997.  The Hunt-Morgan house in Lexington continues to be a popular tourist destination.  Poems were composed to trumpet his exploits and as we observe the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of his most famous raid, books continue to be written about him.  The big question is what great things might he have done if he survived the war.  Alas, that is a question that can be asked six hundred thousand times.


1Thomas F. Leech to Dearest Friend, 10 August 1862, Thomas F. Leech letter, 91SC05, Kentucky Historical Society.

2William E. Metzler, Morgan and His Dixie Cavaliers, 1976.

3Richard J. Reid, Morgan’s Comin’ Again, 1999, 4.

4 Reid, Morgan’s Comin’ Again, 49.

5See Kentucky Railway Map 1859, Kentucky Historical Society.

6John P. Etter, The Indiana Legion, Hawthorne Publishing, 2006, 95.

7Thomas F. Leech to Dearest Friend.

8Etter, The Indiana Legion, 102.

9John M. Porter, One of Morgan’s Men, University Press of Kentucky, 2011, 202.

10Henry Lane Stone, Morgan’s Men, A Narrative of Personal Experience, Westerfield-Bonte Co, Inc. 1919, 12.

11James Lee McDonough, War in Kentucky, University of Tennessee Press, 1994, 59.

12John Hunt Morgan Handbill, SC763, Kentucky Historical Society.

13Anne E. Marshall, Creating A Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border Stae, University of North Carolina Press, 2010, 172-173.

14Marshall, Creating A Confederate Kentucky, 172.

15Stone, A Narrative of Personal Experience, Preface.

16Civil War Collection, Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky.

Suspicious Sympathies: Suspension of Habeas Corpus and Perry Wherritt

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

BoyleBy Terry Healy, Marlatt and Woodrow Wilson Elementary, Manhattan, KS

A heartfelt letter in 1864 pled for the release of Kentuckian, Perry Wherritt, from prison at Louisville Barracks.  Son-in-law, William Worden, told General Jeremiah T. Boyle, “I know not what the charges are upon which he, Mr. Wherritt, was arrested.”1   In another letter to Boyle, Wherritt’s daughter, Maggie, explained that their family “all has been swept away by the tide of misfortune.”2  How were Wherritt and other citizens of Harrison County, Kentucky arrested without charges, trial, or right of appeal?  The answer lies in the conflicted loyalty of Kentucky.  John Lafferty, a Harrison County resident and veteran, recalled Kentucky in the Civil War as “Neighbor arrayed against neighbor, brother against brother, and father against son.”3  As the United States sought to keep Kentucky with the Union, the writ of habeas corpus was suspended.  Suspension of these rights while enabling the Union military to cut off some support for the South, left a legacy of hardened feelings toward the federal government.

Initially in 1861, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the border state of Maryland.4  In a court case (Ex parte John Merryman) Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney gave his opinion that the military authority had  “gone far beyond the mere suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus.”5  Lincoln ignored this ruling and extended the suspension throughout the country on September 24, 1862.6  Congress next adopted the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act on March 3, 1863, ending the writ until the completion of the war.7  No actual crime had to be committed in order for a person to be arrested.  General Sherman in 1864 promised that anyone with “active sympathy with the guerillas” would be arrested and punished.”8  Military rule in Kentucky further curtailed individual rights.

During the Civil War period, over sixty Harrison County residents were arrested and imprisoned.9  The charges brought by the military against Kentucky citizens included being a “Rebel sympathizer” or “On suspicion.”10   Another Harrison County resident, a Mr. Lafferty and veteran of the War of 1812, was detained because he refused to tell the Union army where he kept his old squirrel rifle.11  William S. Pierson, Union commander at a prisoner of war camp near Sandusky, Ohio admitted, “I have charges against very few (political prisoners).” Perry Wherritt’s multiple arrests and imprisonments provide an example of the failure to bring charges, the lack of trial, and the conditions of release for these citizen prisoners.

Perry Wherritt (1807-1883), a resident of Cynthiana, served in multiple public offices from post master in 1845 to County Clerk in 1854.13  Wherritt was well known for his sympathy for the Confederacy.  As a biography of Wherritt stated, “His sympathies were warm for the cause of the South.”14  Perry  was a slaveholder in 1860, owning one adult female and three children.15  David Henry and Thomas, Perry’s only two sons, enlisted in 1862 in the  Second (Duke’s) Kentucky Cavalry (CSA).16  However, Wherritt maintained that he never provided support to the Confederates.17

Wherritt’s first arrest came soon after the start of the war.  He along with Judge J. R. Curry, Sheriff William B. Glaves, and newspaper editor, A. J. Morey were arrested on September 30, 1861.18  Upon their arrest, the four were taken to Newmarket, Kentucky. A. J. Morey later reported they were:

“confined in cells without even a blanket for twenty-four hours. We were then marched at night through the rain and mud to the Little Miami Railroad Depot. …we were ordered to about face and marched four more miles to the Hamilton and Dayton depot where we took the cars for Columbus.  During the march, Judge Curry who is over seventy years of age being much fatigued came near giving out but the captain of the guard with oaths gave orders to drive him up and they punched and struck him in the most brutal manner with their guns . . . our only offense was that we dissented from the measures of Lincoln.”19

Wherritt remained in custody and was moved to Camp Chase in Ohio.  There, Wherritt and over one hundred other Kentucky citizen prisoners wrote a letter to Governor Beriah Magoffin appealing for their release.  In the letter, the prisoners stated, “We were brought here by force of arms against our will and consent in violation of the laws of Kentucky and the laws of the United States  . . . without warrant or law.”20  Like many others, Wherritt’s release came after he had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States.21

Arrests of citizens suspected of sympathizing or helping the Confederates continued.  In 1864, following John Hunt Morgan’s second raid on Cynthiana, Perry Wherritt was again arrested.22  Local rumors accused Wherritt of burning a bridge into the town before the second battle of Cynthiana.23  An article in the Covington America stated that Perry Wherritt, Mayor of Cynthiana, had ordered “the federal soldiers killed in the fight with Morgan be buried in the ‘negro quarter’ of the Cynthiana Cemetery.”24  Wherritt’s family could not find out what  specific charges if any that had been brought.Under oath, Wherritt swore that he had willingly taken the oath of allegiance and not violated it.26  Maggie Morrison Wherritt, Perry’s daughter, in a letter to General Jeremiah Boyle asked that he exert his influence on behalf of her father.  Of the charges against her father, Maggie wrote, “That he (Wherritt) is a sympathizer I do not deny—the fact of his being a prisoner is sufficient proof of that, but any charge of ever injuring our loyal citizens is utterly false.”27

In early September 1864, General Burbridge released Wherritt on the condition he “go to Missouri or any other place outside the state . . . and not return.” 28  Wherritt upon release was to move to St. Louis, joining family members there in business.29

The arrests, imprisonments, and lack of writ of habeas corpus had several different impacts.  One impact of the imprisonments was the removal from the state of those who might provide aid to the Confederate soldiers or guerillas.  The imprisonment also served as notice that great harm would result if there was even a hint of aid to the South.  Anger over the arbitrary arrests turned many of those who had been neutral toward support of the Southern cause and against the North.

Constitutional rights during the Civil War were as Justice Taney said, “usurped by the military power at its discretion.”30  Over 14,000 civilians across the nation were arrested without a trial.31  Individuals such as Perry Wherritt were caught in the fear and suspicion of wartime and as such lost their constitutional rights.  The issues of individual rights versus governmental and military needs in time of wartime continue to this day.


1 William Worden, Letter to General J.T. Boyle, 25 August 1864.  Wherritt, Perry #20812, Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861–1867. Microfilm publication M0345. War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109. National Records and Archives Administration, Washington, D.C.

2 Maggie Morrison Wherritt, Letter to General J. T.Boyle, 25 August 1864, p. 69-70. Wherritt, Perry #20812 Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861–1867. Microfilm publication M0345. War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109. National Records and Archives Administration, Washington, D.C.

3 John Lafferty, Civil War Narrative, ca. 1921.  Kentucky Historical Society

4 Abraham Lincoln, “General Orders No. 141 25 September 1862,” Cornell University.…. 2013.

5 Roger Brooke Taney, Decision of Chief Justice Taney, In the Merryman Case: Upon the

Writ of Habeas Corpus, J. Campbell Bookseller, 1862.

6 Robert Longley, “Lincoln Issues Proclamation Suspending Habeas Corpus Rights,” U.S.

Government Info.  2013.

7 “Habeas Corpus Act of 1863,”  History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center,…

8 Samuel Rhoads and Enoch Lewis, “Summary of News,”  Friends Review 17 (1864): 736.

9 William A. Penn, Rattling Spurs and Broad-Brimmed Hats, Battle Grove Press, 1995, 41.

10 United States Records of Prisoners of War Department of Ohio Correspondence Prisoner

Records 1864-65 3 March 3-17, 1864, 11-12.

11 W. T. Lafferty, “Our Home Experiences During the War,” John Lafferty Civil War Narratives, ca. 1921.  Kentucky Historical Society.

12 Wm. S. Pierson, Letter to Col. W. Homman, Commissary-General Prisoners 5 December 1862, Correspondence, Orders, etc. Relating to Prisoners of War and State From December 1, 1862-June 10, 1863 United States Department of War: Government Printing Office

13 Lucinda Joan Rogers Boyd, “Perry Wherritt,” Chronicles of Cynthiana,    Robert Clark and Company, 1894, p. 107-108 Held at Kentucky Historical Society.

14 “Perry Wherritt,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky of the Dead and Living Men of the Nineteenth Century.  J. M. Armstrong Publishers, 1878, 624-5.

15 1860 United States Federal Census, Slave Schedules, Cynthiana, County of Harrison Kentucky, p. 4. 2013.

16 United States Civil War Soldiers, 1861-65. 2013.

17 Penn, 49.

18 Penn, 38.

19 United States. War Dept., “Prisoners of War, etc.” The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series II Vol. 1, Government Printing Office. 1894,565

20 “Letter from Prisoners At Camp Chase to Governor Magoffin,” 6 August 1862, Journal of the Senate.  Commonwealth of State Assembly of Kentucky.  Yeoman Office, 1862.

21 Perry Wherritt affidavit.  1864. Wherritt, Perry #20812. Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861–1867. Microfilm publication M0345. War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109. National Records and Archives Administration, Washington, D.C.

22 William Penn, “Lurking Rebels-Civilian Arrests in Harrison County During the Civil War,” Harrison Heritage News, Sept. 2004 5:9, 3

23 Penn, Rattling Spurs & Broad-Brimmed Hats p. 45.

24 Stephen Wright, Kentucky Soldiers and Their Regiments In The Civil War: Abstracted From Pages of Contemporary Kentucky Newspapers, 4, 2009,143

26 Perry Wherritt Affidavit.

27 Maggie Morrison Wherritt

28 General S. B. Burbridge, Order of Release, 2 September 1864. Wherritt, Perry #20812. Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861–1867. Microfilm publication M0345. War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109. National Records and Archives Administration, Washington, D.C.

29 William Worden.

30 Roger Brooke Taney.

31 Mark E. Neely, Jr.  “The Lincoln Administration and Arbitrary Arrests,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 5:1, 1983.

Civil War Refugees at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, 1864-1865

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized


By Charla Ridgeway, Woodford County Middle School, Versailles, KY

Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky, was the third largest recruiting center in the nation for black troops during the Civil War.  During the course of the war, the camp provided more than 10,000 U.S. Colored Troops for the Union army.[1]  Army records, such as the USCT Muster and Descriptive Roll for Kentucky’s 7th, 8th, and 9th Districts, indicate that not just free blacks, but also thousands of runaway slaves joined the Union army at the camp.[2]

Prior to 1864, the U.S. military did not officially encourage the recruitment of colored troops in Kentucky, due to an agreement between President Lincoln and Kentucky’s governor Bramlette.  Many slaves ran away to join anyway because of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  However, in March, 1865, Major General John M. Palmer issued the ground-breaking General Order #10, which stated that the families of blacks enlisting in the Union army would receive their freedom.

According to John Fee, an ardent Kentucky abolitionist and eventual founder of Berea College, allowing blacks to enlist would not only improve enlistment numbers but would also increase the zeal with which black soldiers fought.[3]  It appears that Fee’s prediction was correct.   By May of 1864, 70 to 100 black soldiers were enlisting at Camp Nelson per day.  By the end of 1864, more than 20,000 African American men between the ages of 20 and 45 had enrolled, and by war’s end, around 25,000 had joined.[4]

During the first year of black enlistment, 40% of black men in Kentucky joined the Union army.  Their families followed them because many slaveholders were infuriated to have lost their slaves.  Slave women and children that stayed behind were often tortured, mistreated or killed.  In some cases, they were thrown off the master’s property and left with no place to go and no means for survival.[5]  As a result, families created makeshift refugee camps outside of Camp Nelson, like they did outside many other Union training and recruitment centers.

 The latter part of Palmer’s Order #10 states:

“The rights secured to colored soldiers under this law will, if necessary, be enforced by the military authorities of this Department, and it is expected that the loyal men and women of Kentucky will encourage colored men to enlist in the army; and, after they have done so, recognize them as upholders of their Government and defenders of their homes, and exercise which had always characterized the people of the State.”[6]

According to the order, Kentuckians should provide charity and benevolence toward the families of the colored troops who were volunteering to fight for the Union cause.  The army did not provide federal aid to the families of black soldiers like it did for white ones.[7] Charity is something they would certainly need, but it would most likely have to come from missionary organizations like those run by John Fee and others sympathetic to the former slaves’ cause.  The need for help was great. Families either lived in tents or hastily built shanties or sometimes in overcrowded barracks.  Firewood, food and clothing were scarce. Diseases like smallpox, measles and others ran rampant through the refugee camp.[8]

The Union army commanders were given authority to make decisions regarding refugees.  At Camp Nelson, they could not decide what to do about the refugee situation.  On at least eight different occasions, camp commanders expelled women and children whom they said were not providing service to the camp.[9]  Many Union commanders were slaveholders themselves, or at least sympathetic to slave owners and thought the refugees should return to their masters.  General Lorenzo Thomas, who was given command of the U.S. Colored Troops by President Lincoln, was asked to make a decision.

In his General Order #24, Thomas stated that since the women and children were slaves belonging to loyal Kentucky owners in most cases, they should be expelled from the camp and sent back to their owners.  There was no deadline on the order, so it was up to General Stephen Burbridge, infamous for his order to execute four rebels for every Union person killed by guerrillas, to decide on a date for enforcement.[10]  Another order, #19, came from Camp Nelson commander Speed Fry, driving black women and refugees from Kentucky away from the camp, but many returned soon after, with more to follow.  In November 1864, Fry ordered rations to the refugee camp to be cut off, so families in the camp had to survive on donations from the Sanitary Commission and other benevolent organizations.[11]

In what was perhaps the most horrific and shocking decision regarding refugee women and children, Fry issued and order on November 23, 1864, to empty the refugees’ camp and destroy it.  Joseph Miller, a USCT soldier in the 124 U.S. Colored Infantry, Company I, recalled the event:

“About eight Oclock [sic] Wednesday morning November 23rd a mounted guard came to my tent and ordered my wife and children out of Camp.  The morning was bitter cold.  It was freezing hard.  I was certain that it would kill my sick child to take him out in the cold.  I told the man in charge of the guard. . . .He told me that it did not make any difference.  he [sic] had orders to take all out of Camp.  He told my wife and family that if they did not get up into the wagon which he had he would shoot the last one of them.”[12]

During the episode described by Joseph Miller, nearly 400 women and children were transported away from Camp Nelson to the nearby town of Nicholasville and released.  General Fry ordered the refugee camp to be burned.  Many of the soldiers’ families tried to find shelter from the freezing temperatures in barns and mule sheds; others lay beside the road.  Most were half-clothed and half-starved. Missionaries and black soldiers tried to find the women and children to care for them.  Of the 400 refugees removed, eventually 102 died from exposure or sickness caused by the cold.[13]  Among the dead was Joseph Miller’s own son.[14]

When news of the tragedy reached General Stephen Burbridge, he countermanded Fry’s removal order and eventually removed Fry from command.[15]  News of the tragedy hit the national stage due to Quartermaster Theron Hall’s efforts.  He began collecting affidavits from USCT soldiers regarding the November expulsion.  Joseph Miller’s account is one of many of these affidavits that Hall released to the newspapers.[16]  Public outcry in the North was tremendous.  Burbridge wrote to Secretary of War Stanton, “A large number of colored women and children have accumulated at Camp Nelson.  Many of them are wives and children of our colored soldiers.  There will be much suffering among them this winter, unless shelters are built and rations issued to them.  For the sake of humanity, I hope you will issue the proper order in this case as soon as possible.”[17]  As a result, on December 15, 1864, General Lorenzo Thomas issued Order #29, which guaranteed that the families of black troops in Kentucky would receive shelter from the army.[18]  Congress passed legislation in 1865 that legally entitled USCT families to sanctuary.[19]

By December 1, 1864, 200 to 300 of the refugees had returned to the camp.  The new quartermaster, Captain Theron Hall, built permanent housing for the families separate from the soldiers’ quarters.  He provided the materials, while the colored troops performed the labor, constructing 29 buildings to shelter the families.  Eventually, nearly 3000 refugees would live at Camp Nelson.  When the war ended, there were still nearly 2400 refugees there.  They army turned operations of the camp over to the American Missionary Association, the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Sanitary Commission.[20]  Without military protection, those living at the camp soon fell prey to bands of white “regulators” who roamed the countryside, plundering, pillaging and terrorizing former slaves in acts of vengeance for the war and the way of life they had lost.  Many former slaves tried to fight off the regulators; others fled elsewhere.[21]

At Camp Nelson today, there are few reminders of what occurred there in 1864.  One reminder is a simple marble obelisk in the middle of a grassy field called Graveyard #1.  This monument commemorates the lives and loss of the women and children refugees at Camp Nelson during the Civil War.  May we never forget the price that these brave Americans paid or their freedom.


[1], accessed July 1, 2013.

[2] “United States Colored Troops Muster and Descriptive Roll for Kentucky the 7th, 8th and 9th Districts,” FF1.153, Kentucky Historical Society.

[3] Victor B. Howard. Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1983, 79.

[4] Ibid, 82.

[5] Mimi O’Malley. It Happened in Kentucky. Guilford, CT, Two Dot, 2006, 74

[6] Richard D. Sears. Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 2002, 183-184.

[7] O’Malley, 72-73.

[8] Ibid, 75.

[9] Ibid, 75.

[10] Howard, 113.

[11] Ibid, 115.

[12] Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, et al. Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom and the Civil War. New York, New Press, 1992, 493-494.

[13] Howard, 115.

[14] Berlin, Fields et al., 494.

[15] O’Malley, 76.

[16] Howard, 116.

[17], accessed July 1, 2013

[18] Howard, 116.

[19] O’Malley, 75.

[20] Ibid, 76.

[21] Ibid, 78.

Ideals Versus Unity

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized

HoltBy Jackie Schmoldt, West Bend High School, West Bend, WI

Our government is a work in progress and based on the ideals of our founding fathers as they are expressed in the Declaration of Independence, The Preamble of the Constitution, The Constitution itself and the Amendments, especially the Bill of Rights.  Our government continues to evolve and re-interpret those documents that expressed our founder’s ideals.  This evolutionary process is put to the test to the greatest degree when our nation faces a crisis.  How do we reconcile our ideals with the crisis of the threat of Civil War and the unity of the nation?

The state of Kentucky was “Torn Within, and Threatened Without.”  Due to the fact that Kentucky was a pro-union slave state, it had loyalties to both the North and the South.  It was economically tied to both North and South as well. (1)  The threats to the unity of our nation were clearly expressed in a speech given by a Kentucky judge, Joseph Holt.  Holt was well received in New York where his speech was given because he represented those in the Border States who valued the Union and he expressed anger toward those individuals within the Border States, such as Kentucky, who threaten national unity.(2)

This animosity by pro-union Kentuckians toward those who sympathized with the South had a very personal impact on some of its citizens.  In an interview by W.T. Lafferty of his father John, John described the impact on his grandfather who was 76 years old at the time.  After the Confederates left the area, the pro-Union forces were a bit more diligent about rooting out Confederate sympathizers.  John’s grandfather was asked to turn over his squirrel hunting rifle but refused.  He was then thrown in jail.  He was given the opportunity to go free if he would profess his loyalty in an oath.  Apparently, John’s grandfather was very offended after having fought for the nation in the War of 1812.  John also recalled his uncle Thorton being put in front of a Union firing squad in Frankfort, Kentucky, because he was a Confederate.  After the shots were fired his two friends were dead but he was still standing. (3)  However, the reliability of the Lafferty account of the war could be a reflection of the growing Confederate identity that seemed to shape the historical memory of the citizens of Kentucky once the war had ended and Kentuckians who supported the union felt betrayed by the ending of slavery. (4)

Other indicators of the struggle between granting citizens their rights and protecting the fragile union of the nation, include the arrest of “traitors” within the state.  Many people in Kentucky were upset by these violations of civil liberties. (5)  Lincoln and congress did suspend the writ of habeas corpus in the Border States where Confederate sympathizers prevailed.  When the Confiscation Act of July 17th, 1862 was passed, the slaves of rebel owners obtained freedom within the Union army.  However, loyal slave owners could recover their slaves, but it is very likely that many were not allowed to do so. (6)  According Dr. Christopher Phillips in a speech given on June 24th, 2013, at the Kentucky Historical Society, many in Kentucky felt that it was under hostile occupation of the Union army after 1862 and that the Union didn’t trust its own citizens.

Did our country completely fail us during the Civil War?  Did we learn any lessons from that terrible time in our past?  Clearly our nation struggled to balance ideals with unity.  We are still united, stronger than ever, we are still testing those ideals and we probably always will.  Ultimately, the freedom of the slaves trumps everything.


1         Lowell H. Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1975, 1-2.

2         Joseph Holt, “Speech of Hon. Joseph Holt at a mass meeting, called by the Chamber of Commerce, in Irving Hall, New York, September 3, 1861.”  Kentucky Historical Society.

3         W.T. Lafferty, “Our Home Experiences during the War.”  John Lafferty Narrative, ca 1921. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society.

4         Anne E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State.  The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2010, 1-2.

5         William C. Harris, Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2011, 113-114.

6         Victor B. Howard, Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884,”  The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1983, 32-33.

“We Have Trouble Enough to Distract Us”

Written by Tim Talbott. Posted in Uncategorized


By Tim Talbott, Kentucky Historical Society

Just two days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Kentuckian J. M. Day wrote to his niece Maggie Harris about issues affecting his small piece of the world.  In Allen County, Kentucky, which bordered neighboring Tennessee, Douglass explained that things looked bleak.[1]

 Following the Confederate Army of the Mississippi’s retreat from Kentucky after the Battle of Perryville (Oct. 8, 1862), the state had largely avoided much of the massive troop movements and occupation that states such as Tennessee and Virginia had suffered from throughout the war.  However, occasional raids by recognized bands of Confederate cavalry troops under the likes of John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest were enough to keep Kentuckians on edge.  Yet, even more fearful than the raids of these regular forces were those of the irregulars; better known as guerrillas.  These partisans, some claiming allegiance to the Union, some to the Confederacy, and some just using the war as an excuse to take out generations of old grudges on their neighbors who were not of like mind, robbed, burned, and killed with seemingly little regard for anyone other than themselves.

 Guerrilla warfare in the Civil War has largely been neglected by conventional war military historians, but the topic is currently undergoing a rediscovery.[2]  Until recently Missouri has taken the lead in coverage by scholars on guerrilla depredations, but in the past ten to fifteen years Kentucky has received its fair share of treatment.  More, however, remains to be done.[3]

 In his letter, Douglass mentioned many of the depredations that guerillas inflicted upon Kentucky’s citizens.  Among those ravages was that “our Town is nearly Burnt up[,] it caught or was fired[.]  It is not known which a way[.]  It is burned at any rate[.] all but two Stores is burned[.]”[4]  Unfortunately, Allen County was not the only Kentucky community that met with incendiary damages.  County courthouses were a favorite target of guerrilla bands.  More than twenty Kentucky courthouses were burned during the war; the majority of which were fired in the last eighteen months of the war, and a number of those by guerrillas.[5] 

 One of the most fearful aspects of guerrilla warfare in Kentucky was the seeming randomness of the brutality.  In his letter, Douglass expressed his fear and concern about physical violence caused by groups of marauders.  “we don’t know when we lie down at night but what we will be killed by Gurrilles before the Sun rises next morning[,] and you may guess from that we have Trouble enough to distract us.”[6]  Only two counties divided Allen County from the notorious Champ Ferguson’s native Clinton County, and Allen County was just a couple of counties north of Ferguson’s adopted White County, Tennessee.  Ferguson was likely the most feared guerrilla that troubled Kentucky during the Civil War.  He was infamous for his sadistic nature and willingness to kill those he saw as potential threats despite age or infirmity.  He was alleged to have killed men almost as old as sixty and as young as sixteen.[7]  Ferguson once told a victim who had previously been a close personal friend – until the war turned neighbor against neighbor – “Don’t you beg, and don’t you dodge,” before killing the man.[8]  Ferguson shot one man in his sick bed, and another in a military hospital bed.  Ferguson finally met his fate at end of a noose when he was hanged in Nashville for his war crimes on October 20, 1865.[9] 

 Guerrilla depredations became so extreme in Kentucky that the United States military and federal government sought diverse ways to curb the violence and curtail support for the marauders.  One means was to levy fines and confiscate property by known Kentucky Confederate sympathizers and use the funds to “reimburse loyal Union citizens in part for their losses by rebel guerrillas.”[10] Although Lincoln had issues with this measure due to potential abuse, it appears that it continued for some time.[11] 

 Another punitive measure was to execute four incarcerated Confederate guerillas when a Kentucky Unionist citizen was killed.  Known as General Order 59, and issued by state commander Stephen G. Burbridge, the order was issued in July 1864 and put into effect in several instances.[12]  Previously, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette had issued a similar but less vindictive proclamation.  In it Bramlette stated, “I, therefore, request that the various Military Commanders in the State of Kentucky will, in every instance when a loyal citizen is taken off by bands of guerrillas immediately arrest at least five of the most prominent and active rebel sympathizers in the vicinity of such outrages for every loyal man taken by guerrillas. These sympathizers should be held as hostages for the safe and speedy return of the loyal citizens.”  Bramlette, like the harsher Burbridge, thought the best means in dealing with guerillas was to fight fire with fire.  He suggested holding those that harbored such criminals as responsible.  “Let them learn that if they refuse to exert themselves actively for the assistance and protection of the loyal, they must expect to reap the just fruits of their complicity with the enemies of our State and people,” the governor proclaimed.[13]  Compounding the problem, of course, in Kentucky was the fact that “loyal” meant many things to many different people, and often fluctuated depending on whom exerted the most power at the time.  

 Guerrilla violence, especially in the immediate aftermath of the war, caused migration and displacement.  In his letter, Douglass mentioned that “I am getting mighty tired of this old country[.]  if we all can live and have no hard luck I think that I will come out to Illinois this fall and see the country.”  Apparently, Douglass and his family were intent on moving northwest, and interested in finding more peaceful surroundings.  Not only white Kentuckians sought to get away from the threats and actual violence.  African Americans, too, left the state in startling numbers after the war.[14]  Many postwar guerrillas doubled as Ku Klux Klan-like avengers.  Both Confederate sympathizing raiders and proslavery Unionist nightriders were adverse to the social and political changes that the war had wrought to the “peculiar institution,” and took out their frustrations on blacks and those neighbors that supported the Republican Party.  Those Kentucky blacks that remained in the state sought protection by moving to the commonwealth’s urban centers or forming tight-knit African American rural communities.[15]

 Guerrilla warfare had long lasting repercussions on Kentucky.  Along with enforced measures such as the impressments of slaves to work on military projects and enlistment of African Americans as Union soldiers, the federal government’s hard-handed approach toward guerillas caused consternation.  In the postwar years many of the commonwealth’s citizens became further alienated from a unionist understanding of the war and came to embrace a Confederate/Lost Cause interpretation of the war.  That theme resonates still today.



[1] J. M. Douglass to Maggie Harris, 11 April 1865, J. M. Douglass Letter, SC1069, Kentucky Historical Society.

[2] Daniel E. Sutherland’s, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), argues that guerilla actions helped lead to the defeat of the Confederacy by showing citizens how little protection they could expect from their national and state governments.  This acclaimed book has revitalized the study of guerilla actions during the Civil War

[3] For more scholarship on guerrilla warfare in Kentucky see: Brian McKnight’s, Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia (Louisiana State University Press, 2011); Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy: A Biography of Kentucky Soldier Jerome Clark (McFarland, 2007) by Thomas S. Watson and Perry A. Brantley; “‘War Upon Our Border”: War and Society in Two Ohio River Communities, 1861-1865” (PhD. Dissertation, University of Cincinnati) by Stephen I. Rockenbach; Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson’s Civil War (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008) by Thomas D. Mays; Guerrilla War in Kentucky: Burbridge and Berrys (Trafford, 2009), by Gordon Mellish

[4] J. M. Douglass to Maggie Harris

[5] James C. Klotter and Freda C. Klotter, A Concise History of Kentucky, The University Press of Kentucky, 2008, 116; Melba Porter Hay and Thomas H. Appleton, Jr. eds., Roadside History: A Guide to Kentucky’s Highway Markers, Kentucky Historical Society, 2002, 29.

[6] J. M. Douglass to Maggie Harris

[7] Mays, Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson’s Civil War, 43.

[8] McKnight, Confederate Outlaw, 46.

[9] Mays, Cumberland Blood, 120, 144.

[10] Jeremiah T. Boyle to Abraham Lincoln, 11 February 1863, Library of Congress (American Memory).

[11] Abraham Lincoln to Jeremiah T. Boyle, 1 February 1863, Library of Congress (American Memory).

[12] War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 39, Part II Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 1892, 174.

[13] “Proclamation by the Governor,” 4 January 1864, National Archives and Records Administration (ARC online).

[14] Darrel E. Bigham, On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley, The University Press of Kentucky, 2006, 110.

[15] John Kellogg, “The Formation of Black Residential Areas in Lexington, Kentucky, 1865-1887, in the The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 48, No. 1, February, 1982, 22.