Welcome once more to Kentucky History Friday! This evening’s article is in relevance to the second installment of our new 5-part series. We are to discuss the ignition of the American Civil War, its ramifications in the Commonwealth, and our government’s response thereto. Our discussion is entitled Perpetual Disunion Volume II: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Kentuckian Neutrality and its De-Facto Dissolution. Whilst sympathies flooded the minds of citizens throughout these United States – severing, indefinitely, familial relations and friendships – there existed no clarity as to the persuasions of Kentucky. A fragile union, born of disunity, had erupted into a hail of confusion as is the typicality of warfare; the legislature of South Carolina had adopted its ordinance of secession during December of 1860, and had since witnessed the ignition of a magnificently horrible shedding of life via the assault on Fort Sumter. As it was bestowed a description by one Captain Stephen D. Lee, …that shot was a sound of alarm that brought every soldier in the harbor to his feet and every man, woman, and child in the city of Charleston from their beds. A thrill went through the whole city. It was felt that the Rubicon was passed.
A majority seemed to propose the possibility of two options: one is to rally around the Bonnie Blue Flag – an early variant of the Confederate standard which was never formally adopted, though did inspire the well-known rally cry of the same name proclaiming We are a band of brothers and native to the soil, fighting for our liberty with treasured blood and toil; and when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far: Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star! – or leap to the aid of the Unionist cause and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers of April 1861. Given the natural implications of an act of war – which was, indeed, instituted upon the assault of Fort Sumter in Charleston – retaliation was to be mounted; Federal executive Abraham Lincoln invoked the standard practice of a call for volunteers for such purpose. As the regular army was of a considerably poor condition (when subject to comparison with those of European states) the United States, unto the 20th century, had so elected to establish a call-to-action dependency wherein volunteers were requested only when required; as an ancient historian, one may grant a partial parallel to the classical Hellenic poleis (a majority of which employed militias of citizenry when conflict arose.) Thus, in compliance with the Militia Act of 1795, Lincoln declared a formal call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 3 months; inadvertently, the call to arms resulted in the secession of several Southern states that refused to furnish the requested volunteers, i.e. Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. With specificity to our Commonwealth, Governor Beriah Magoffin sought to assert Kentuckian neutrality; his government was not to provide volunteers to a Northern army intent on subjugating our Southern brethren.
Wigfall meets Anderson at Fort Sumter
Governor Magoffin retained no beliefs which perpetuated the ideology of abolition; nor did he support secessionism, although simultaneously opposing the coercion of Southern states. Neutrality therefore, he reasoned, remained the proper stance. His house divided could not, with unanimity, afford favor to either belligerent. In cooperation therewith, the Kentucky General Assembly reaffirmed Magoffin’s neutrality doctrine via a resolution upon the 16th of May, 1861 which adopted legal neutrality. The actuality of such a position was of an immensely greater complexity however; Kentucky’s vast river systems and agricultural economy had bound it to its Southern neighbors, yet its Northeastern regions gradually fell beneath the persuasions of Unionist ideologies. Citizenry were oft of harrowingly opposing opinions; as the state would not furnish an army to aid in either cause, Kentuckians of varying sympathies amassed to collect regiments which sought to hoist secessionist banners or to put down the rebellion. Bequeathed the titles State Guard and Home Guard, respectively, these militias gathered considerable numbers; those wishing to serve on behalf of the Confederate States often were left little alternative than to attach themselves to the Army of Tennessee – wherein the perhaps most noted regiment was ordained, the 1st Kentucky or Orphan Brigade whose marching song laments We were driven forth in exile from our old Kentucky home. Sympathies for the Confederate States garnered circa 40,000 Kentuckians, whereas circa 100,000 would cast their military loyalties to the Union; such proportions are representative of the balance of ideologies, and are furthermore upheld via the Unionist ascension to 9 of 10 US Congressional seats for Kentucky, as well as a Unionist majority in the General Assembly. Let us not presume the sheer clarity thereof although, as neutrality was once again undermined by political manners; rather than accept a neutral Kentucky, many sought to mandate secession via the courses of governmental reformation. The 18th of November bore witness to a convention of 200 delegates who organized a usurping government which adjudicated an ordinance of secession; though unrecognized by the proper Commonwealth, this “state” (claiming the city of Bowling Green as its capital) received incorporation as the 13th Confederate state. Prominent statesman and 1860 Presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge endorsed the newly established geopolitical entity, as did numerous others; in light thereof, and with the effectually collapsing doctrine of neutrality, Governor Magoffin would resign his authority during the subsequent 1862, which shall be discussed in Volume III. The new, authority-less governmental body held George W. Johnson as its Governor rather than Magoffin throughout 1861.
Whilst the American Civil War ravaged lives throughout the North American continent, a storm was silently forming above Kentucky. Due to the vitality of its “border state” geographic location, as well as its enjoinment with the Mississippi River, the Federal and Confederate governments sought to acquire the state regardless of its objections. Lincoln is reputed to have said I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky. A Unionist encampment, Camp Wildcat, had been erected in Laurel County upon the outbreak of the sorrowful endeavor of war; despite governmental protest, Lincoln asserted that the camp’s constituency was composed entirely of the state’s citizens in order to repudiate any supposed violations of sovereignty or neutrality. We shall thence come to note an order to Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant via General John C. Fremont upon the 28th of August to …occupy Columbus, Ky., as soon as possible. Columbus was situated on the banks of the Mississippi, thus ensuring its significance as a port city. Anticipating a likewise maneuver, Major General Leonidas Polk (an officer of the Confederate ranks) sought a siege of the town on the 3rd of September.
Regardless of his fervent attempts to salvage Kentuckian neutrality, Governor Magoffin was unwillingly thrust unto the reigns of consorting. Whereas Polk descended upon Kentucky from the Southern boundary, Grant swiftly invaded to capture Paducah with aspirations of also forming authority amongst northern Kentucky. The results of this are to be given to discourse and examination within our succeeding Volume III a week from now; suffice it to say, for this evening, that Magoffin and the General Assembly were thereby compelled to invite Federal armies into the state to decimate Confederate objectives therein.
We hope you have enjoyed this article and gained knowledge therefrom. Join us next week for another Kentucky History Friday! Next week we shall publish Volume III: Terrible Swift Sword. In light thereof, begin to ponder the question: what are the social receptions of the invasion of Kentucky? Email us your thoughts!
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- Austin R. Justice, History of Kentucky Group
Kentucky Cat Fight political cartoon, 1861
Battered extremities of Fort Sumter post-surrender, 1861
Kentucky State Guard at Camp Boone, 1861
State Guard hat insignia.
George W. Johnson
"Resolution of Neutrality, May 16, 1861
"BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:A PROCLAMATION
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Austin R. Justice
PMC of River Cities Chapter and Lincoln Forum & Colloquium Student Scholar.
Spencer M. Dayton