On This Date in History: The American Civil War split the nation in two: North vs. South, Slave State vs. Free State. Except for one thing. Not all of the slave states seceded from the Union. One of those states was Kentucky. It had been formed from the state of Virginia and, as part of the deal, Kentucky had to be a slave state. I suppose that there were two reasons for this little clause. One was that the politicians were generally from the wealthy class and the wealthy minority owned the vast majority of slaves. Also, slave-holding Virginia’s legislature wanted to double its power. Because of distance and topography, it was extremely difficult to govern such a large area stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Ohio River. So, they almost had to do it. But, they also knew that citizens in the western part of the state really wanted it too. So, they agreed to the split and, by making certain that it was a slave state, ensured two more Senators from slave states as well as an additional delegation in the House of Representatives that would be supportive of the “slaveocracy.”
Well, as previously mentioned, the vast majority of slave-holders in Kentucky were wealthy planters. The majority of people, however, did not own slaves. So, that made for a difficult decision for legislators when it came to secession. Not only were there more people who did not own slaves in the state, but also the Federal government was putting great pressure to have the state of the birth of Abraham Lincoln remain in the Union. Militarily, it was also an extremely important strategic asset for the North as whomever held Louisville could control the Ohio River at the Falls of the Ohio. Louisville was also a big rail hub for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and its connection to the South. The Kentucky Legislature chose not to choose. Instead, on this date in 1861, the state of Kentucky took a stand of neutrality. They would officially not support the North nor the South. It was a pretty short sighted position as I’m not sure how exactly the state thought that it could keep either side from sending troops through the state. The fact is, they couldn’t.
President Lincoln was a very shrewd politician and so instead of forcing the issue, on July 10,1861 he wrote Inspector General of the Kentucky Militia Simon B Buckner and stated that Federal Troops would not enter the Bluegrass State. In essence he was taking the high road and probably understood that the Confederacy would not make such a claim but instead try to entice the slave state to join their ranks in some form or fashion. If that was his thought, then he was correct because on September 4, 1861 Gideon Pillow led his Confederate troops out of Tennessee and into extreme Western Kentucky to set up fortifications at Columbus, KY. Rebel Major General Leonidis Polk was in control of Arkansas and Missouri and he was the one who ordered Pillow into the state. The South’s Secretary of War told Polk to withdraw but Confederate President Jefferson Davis over-ruled that order. In reaction, Union General US Grant moved from Cairo, IL to secure Paducah and Smithfield. Shortly thereafter, Grant started his climb to prominence with victories and Fort Henry and Fort Donnelson.
Obviously, neutrality was not going to work . Both sides had violated the neutrality terms but the Confederates had started it. Really, they had started it well before Pillow’s crossing the border. See, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin had signed the notice of neutrality but he had sympathies with the Confederacy. So, he did nothing when Rebel recruiters came into the state. He also did nothing when war materials were being exported South. Lincoln, however, refrained from reacting because he was very sensitive to doing anything that might shove Kentucky into the arms of the Confederacy. But in June elections, Unionists had won 5 of 6 Kentucky Congressional seats. For some reason, many secessionists in the state decided it was wise to boycott the polls. Then, in early August, Republicans won majorities in both houses of the Kentucky legislature.
So, it should not be surprising that two weeks after Pillow moved into Kentucky, the legislature resolved that the Confederate “invaders must be expelled!” Magoffin resigned and that was the end of neutrality. The Union Army designated Louisville as the home of the Army of the Ohio. At first, it was under the command of Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame but he was in poor health and was replaced by William T. Sherman. Sherman kept wildly saying he needed more troops and acted so eccentrically that he was seen by many as “insane.” His career almost came to an end but instead he was transferred under the command of Henry Halleck in St. Louis where Sherman regained his composure and later regained his reputation as the right hand man of General Grant. Don Carlos Buell took over in Louisville and commanded about 75,000 men. They built some 15 forts around Louisville as a defense against Confederate invasion.
In 1862, Braxton Bragg led an army of about 45, 000 into Kentucky. He was convinced that Kentuckians were just waiting to join the Southern Cause. He moved his troops in an tried to gain recruits. By the time he got to Mumfordville, it became apparent that was not the case. Reporter Whitelaw Reid, who later became the editor of the New York Tribune, said that Bragg complained that Kentuckians were “shuffling middlemen” who just sat on the sidelines waiting to see which side would be victorious before making a committment. So, he tried a political solution by going to Frankfort and holding his own gubnatorial swearing in ceremony. Perhaps he thought that if the Confederacy swore in a Confederate governor and simply claimed the state that the citizens would follow. Instead, the ceremony was halted early due to the report of Union cannonfire from a detachment of artillery that was sent from Louisville by Buell. It was a hot and dry summer and both Buell and Bragg had their men go to Perryville in order to get water from a creek. A battle ensued with the Confederates inflicting more casualties but the Union holding the ground as overnight Bragg retreated. Bragg continued to retreat all the way out of the state, never to return. Buell didn’t follow him and he got fired, never to serve again.
My research revealed a historian who claims that the people of Perryville buried the Union dead and left the Confederates to rot in the hot sun. Some 25,000 Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy while over 125,000 wore the blue uniform. Louisville was the home of 75,000 Union troops and was defended by 15 forts against Confederate invasion. The Kentucky legislature called for the expulsion of Confederate armies. When given the opportunity to join Bragg’s army, Kentuckians did not respond. William Clarke Quantrill of “Quantrill’s Raiders” fame died in Louisville after being shot and captured near Smiley, KY. Confederate Guerilla leader Marcellus Jerome Clarke aka Sue Mundy was executed in Louisville. Doesn’t sound like much of a Southern state, does it? Well, after the war, as part of the “Lost Cause” effort in the South, history changed. Many of Louisville’s elites had been associated with the South and that’s what they wanted to remember. Louisville, home of the Army of the Ohio, has a Confederate War Memorial. Jefferson Davis was born in the state but lived in Kentucky for just a few years before he moved to Mississippi. He did return to go to school for a few years but his life’s work was really in Mississippi. Yet, his statue is in the state capital. There is also monolith monument to Davis in Fairview, KY that resembles the Washington Memorial. Not a single Union memorial is in the state. On April 17, 1885 Louisville led the nation in a birthday celebration of the 63rd year of Ulysses S. Grant. You can find a plaque commemorating the event on Grant’s tomb but not one word of it is in the 1896 Memorial History of Louisville. The same is true of the decade long National Industrial Exposition yet, the 5 year Southern Exposition has an entire chapter all to itself. No…Kentucky said it was neutral but sided with the Union. It’s history was tied with the North. I’ve seen a quote that says that “in 1865, Louisville was a Northern City and by 1900 it was a Southern City.” Most Kentuckians have been raised to think it was always in the South. Nevertheless, those of us from more southern regions know better.
When my friend Kim Stevens, from Muscle Shoals, AL married a young man from Louisville, her family said that they guessed it was okay for her to marry a Yankee. When Snow White and I were in Savanah, GA and discussing the war between the states with a tour guide, when she found out that we were from Kentucky she dismissed us as being Yankees. Much of Kentucky gets from 1 to 2 feet of snow each year and annually has at least one night of near zero or below zero temperatures. Last year, Louisville went through the entire month of July without a single high temperature in the 90′s. The South? No…but its not the North either, nor the Midwest or the East. What makes Kentucky so difficult to pinpoint geographically also makes it difficult to define culturally. And from a climatological and meterological perspective, its location makes it extremely difficult to categorize and forecast. Perhaps that is why the state legislature could not make up its mind in 1861. But, one thing that I think is certain, this conundrum is exactly why I think the state is a wonderful place to live.
Weather Bottom Line: Thursday evening into Thursday night will most likely produce some pretty good storms with rain totals over an inch. We don’t need that. We don’t need severe storms either but most likely we will not see those but its worth keeping an eye on. Some troubling storms with wind and small hail may be on the loose in a couple of areas. Still looks like we heat up and dry out from the weekend forward.