Two Civil Wars: Kentucky’s North and South Heritage
“Kentuckians were pulled toward both sides during the Civil War—everyone knew someone who was a Confederate soldier, even if they were Union sympathizers,” says historian Dixie Hibbs, author of Nelson County: A Portrait of the Civil War, from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Civil War series. “Choosing sides was life-changing for those who left to fight and those who were left to worry.
“This was a trying time for Kentuckians, a time that left emotional scars that took years to heal. Some say they never completely healed.”
Kentucky arguably had the most unique, challenging, divisive—and heartbreaking—role in the Civil War. As the sesquicentennial of this bloody chapter in American history continues to unfold in 2012, there will be re-enactments, encampments, museum exhibitions, programs, and lectures, including the state’s major event: the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, which effectively decided Kentucky’s fate during the war.
“Never again, except for minor cavalry raids, did the Confederacy ever make any attempt to take or even return in force to Kentucky,” says Kurt Holman, park manager at Perryville Battlefield, a State Historic Site. “After the battle, Kentucky was firmly in the Union.”
Kentucky’s singular role and fate, and its far-reaching consequences, may be best understood by exploring the interactive exhibit, “Civil War: My Brother, My Enemy,” created by the Frazier History Museum and now on display at the Kentucky Historical Society. (Artifacts are from the Frazier, KHS, and private collections.) In the War Between the States, Kentucky was the state that stood between the war.
‘My Brother, My Enemy’
“More than any other state, Kentucky embodied the conflicts over slavery that tore the nation apart,” says Trevor Jones, director of museum collections and exhibitions for the Kentucky Historical Society. “This exhibition covers Kentucky’s geographic and political importance during all phases of the conflict—from Henry Clay’s efforts to prevent a war over slavery to postwar racial politics. It looks at the conflicts between family and what the war meant to them.”
The narrative is told through very personal artifacts, including a baby garment sewn by Mary Todd Lincoln for her son Robert, whose own family was strongly divided by the war; a casket wagon once used by Cave Hill Cemetery to reinter soldiers; and a rare enlisted soldier’s uniform, that of Major John L. Davidson from Todd County.
“Brothers John and Frank Davidson both joined the Army,” Jones says. “John joined the Union, Frank the Confederacy. Frank was captured in 1864 and survived the war, but because of his Confederate service he was never again mentioned in family letters.
“John was killed shortly after enlisting and his slave returned both his body and his uniform to his family. John had fathered twin sons by an African American woman, but the family never mentioned them either.
“The Davidson story captures the divisions in Kentucky, the carnage of the war, and the complex racial issues that its people wrestled with; John Davidson and most of his family supported the Union, but his family owned slaves. John’s only children had an African American mother, but they were never acknowledged by the family.”
Battle of Perryville
Chad Greene, featured on this month’s cover as both a Union and Confederate soldier, is a veteran re-enactor of 25 years who will step into the role of commander of the Union Army for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, which was the largest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War to occur in Kentucky. Through his experiences, Greene has gained insights into the tactical and strategic issues that came into play in military history at that time, but also feels a kinship to the common soldier.
“I can never fully appreciate what they endured, but re-enacting gives me a tangible connection to my ancestors and their struggles in developing what we now know as the United States.
“I honestly believe that Kentuckians viewed themselves very differently than people who lived in other states,” he adds. “Kentuckians had so many ties to both the Northern economy and the Southern way of life that her people were very conflicted as to what side they should really be on. In the end, I think most people made up their mind to be on Kentucky’s side.”
Nearly 2,500 soldiers lost their lives on October 8, 1862, on farm fields surrounding Perryville. Another 5,000 soldiers were wounded. Perryville resolved Kentucky’s position in the war: the Confederate Army evacuated the state; the Union Army took control. It was one of the victories that made possible the eventual success of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Visitors to Perryville Battlefield are able to retrace the steps of the soldiers who fought on that autumn day 150 years ago. The anniversary will be commemorated with battle re-enactments, educational programs, and historic tours.
Greene says, “The great thing about attending the battle is you’ll come into contact with thousands of people who have a wealth of knowledge about the battle and the soldiers. The park will be offering a lot of activities, speakers, and a museum exhibit that will go a long way in teaching the history of Kentucky and the struggles of Perryville after the armies left.”
‘Divided We Stood’
In Covington’s scenic Devou Park, the Behringer-Crawford Museum showcases the exhibit “Divided We Stood,” which explores northern Kentucky and Cincinnati’s role, a key inland port and economic engine driving the heart of the Union during the Civil War.
“The federal government recognized the strategic importance of northern Kentucky and Cincinnati from the beginning of the Civil War,” says Jeannine Kreinbrink, archaeologist associate and the curator for the museum’s Civil War exhibit. “They sent engineers to the area as early as May 1861 to organize a defensive fortification system to protect this vital transportation and manufacturing hub.”
The Civil War has enthralled Americans for 150 years and will most likely continue to do so for untold future generations.
“Many people think because the Civil War ended almost 150 years ago that it is in the past and not relevant to today. However, we are still dealing with many of the same issues, both political and social, such as states’ rights, civil rights, and many economic issues. This exhibit will highlight how these issues affected northern Kentucky during the Civil War.
“Our exhibit title, ‘Divided We Stood,’ aptly describes the divisiveness of war, not only between the states but often between families and family members. There was an ambiguous nature of loyalty on the state, local, and individual levels.”
From Union to Confederacy
“We feel visitors will be surprised by just how all-encompassing the war was in Kentucky,” says Trevor Jones at the Kentucky Historical Society. “No one was untouched, and the state’s entire social fabric was torn apart. Visitors may also be surprised to learn that the majority of Kentuckians did strongly support the Union until late in the war. Only with the destruction of slavery and during postwar reconstruction did Kentucky embrace a strong Confederate identity and embrace the ‘Lost Cause.’”
Adds Jones, “As historian E. Merton Coulter noted in 1926, Kentucky waited until after the war was over to secede from the Union.”
2012 CIVIL WAR SESQUICENTENNIAL EVENTS
Learn more about the Civil War by visiting one of several events taking place all over Kentucky in 2012 as part of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Here are some of the Civil War re-enactments, encampments, tours, exhibits, lectures, ghost stories, and more.
Go online or call directly for more information such as costs and to verify times before you go. You can also find more information about these events online at www.KentuckyTourism.com (search Events) or the Kentucky Historical Society, www.history.ky.gov (under News & Events tab, choose Civil War Sesquicentennial).
Through December 8
Kentucky Historical Society
Civil War: My Brother, My Enemy exhibit
Frankfort, Keeneland Changing Exhibits Gallery
Civil War Museum of the Western Theater
Civil War exhibits
Displays focus on the war in the western states at the fourth largest Civil War museum in the country.
7-9 p.m., August 11
Civil War Ghosts & Legends
Downtown walking presentation
With storytelling, cannon fire, and period music.
Civil War Re-enactment
Re-enactment with units from the 7th Kentucky Company E (Confederate) and 24th Kentucky Company B (Union).
Old Bardstown Village, Bardstown
10 a.m.-4 p.m., August 25-26
Battle of Richmond Re-enactment
11th Annual Battle of Richmond Re-enactment
7 p.m., August 30
Battle of Richmond Service of Remembrance
Mt. Zion Christian Church, Richmond
September 8-January 20, 2013
Divided We Stood exhibit
2 p.m., September 1-2
Civil War Train Robbery
Union camp, cannon firing demonstration, bandits on the train.
Bluegrass Railroad Museum, Versailles
www.BluegrassRailroad.com, e-mail John_M_Penfield@yahoo.com
Hart County Civil War Days:
150th Anniversary of the Battle of Munfordville
Living-history demonstrations at the Battle for the Bridge Preserve and on the courthouse square; walking tours, parade, period music; battle re-enactments Saturday and Sunday.
10 a.m.-5 p.m., September 8
Troops at Our Doorsteps: The Civil War Marches Through Shaker Village
See how the Civil War impacted this Shaker community during this new event, which includes the Pleasant Hill Singers performing music of the Black Shakers, presentations by Sister Patsy Roberts Williamson, describing her life as an African American Shaker, and Sister Mary Settles, the last of the Pleasant Hill Shakers.
(800) 734-5611 x 1545
Battle of Barbourville Re-enactment
The 12th annual event commemorates the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Barbourville.
Minton Hickory Farm, Barbourville
Camp Nelson Living History Weekend
Military and civilian life; skirmish re-enactment on one of the best-preserved Union Army Supply Depot and recruitment sites in the nation.
Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, Jessamine County (859) 881-5716
This Cruel War: The Clay Family Divided
Military activities, mountain howitzer firing, civilian living history, first-person portrayal of events in the house and on the grounds, more.
Ashland, Home of Henry Clay, Lexington
150th Battle of Perryville Re-Enactment
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
Rededication of the Confederate and Union Monuments
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
www.parks.ky.gov (go to Parks tab, Historic Sites/Perryville Battlefield)
Battle of Columbus-Belmont
The weekend will include battle re-enactments, living history and encampments, a Ghost Walk, special entertainment, more.
Columbus-Belmont State Park, Columbus
www.parks.ky.gov (go to Parks tab, Recreation Parks/Columbus-Belmont)
9 a.m., October 20
Civil War Tour of Cave Hill Cemetery
Take a two-hour walking tour back in time with tour guide and Civil War author Bryan S. Bush, exploring Cave Hill Cemetery during the Civil War.
Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville
Bacon Creek Station Celebration
Second Annual Weekend event features authentic Civil War encampments on the actual Camp Jefferson site, a Black Powder Sharpshooter Contest, welcoming fireworks, living-history exhibits, skirmishes, an old-time parade, more.
Living History: Camp of Instruction Weekend
Learn the lifestyle of the common western federal soldier at this event hosted by the Hardin County History Museum.
Freeman Lake Park, Elizabethtown
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: COMMEMORATING PERRYVILLE
Learn more about the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky’s bloodiest battlefield during the Civil War and thought of today as one of the most unaltered Civil War sites in the nation. Perryville Battlefield will commemorate the fateful day in 1862 in grand fashion at re-enactments October 6-7. The park will play host to battalions of re-enactors, some from as far away as Sweden. To learn more, go to Commemorating Perryville.