We are proud to be contributors to the Kentucky History and Genealogy Network newsletter. We will be writing on subjects related to the American Civil War in Kentucky which is right in our wheelhouse.
Kentucky was essential to both contending governments and armies. The army that controlled Kentucky controlled the Ohio river which was vital to transportation and business efforts at the time. The Confederacy had much of the resources they needed at the outbreak of the war. Confederate General Zollicoffer’s initial efforts in Kentucky had as an objective to slow down the Union military growth already starting in places like Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County as early as July of 1861. Cumberland Gap was long held as the original “Gateway to the West” and was the hinge that Zollicoffer based his westward line from. The hope was that Kentucky’s Confederate sympathizers would flock to a strong Confederate Military presence and that hope extended through 1862 and ultimately crushed in the disaster that was Perryville on October 8th of 1862. Kentucky could have been a bargaining chip in any pleas for Peace should the war take that turn. We will investigate all of these military aspects and more in this series of articles.
Many of us find great excitement in learning we have ancestors who served in the various wars of Kentucky and the United States. That service is worthy of Pride whether the ancestor served the Union or the Confederacy in the late unpleasantness. Families were torn apart during the war, surnames were changed, families moved away from family members, and the anger and frustration during the war boiled over into law suits and feuds in the years after the war. All of this is well documented of course and can be the source for much information to help flesh out our genealogy research. One thing we have to remember in our genealogical endeavors is that these wars and the service in those wars by our ancestors did not happen in a vacuum. The families of the soldiers continued to live their lives, buy and sell goods, and even suffer through the consequences of the war in their backyards. Soldiers were given leave to attend to dying family members and sometimes they took that leave on their own accord resulting in “Absent without leave” charges being levied against them upon their return assuming they returned at all. There is much to be learned from the military careers of these soldiers that may also shed some light on the civilians at home.
The major military actions were over in Kentucky at the end of 1862. There were a few skirmishes and very small mounted infantry actions but the big fights of Wildcat Mountain, Mill Springs, Richmond, and Perryville were over. The pain and suffering was just beginning however. Strong Unionists would soon find themselves feeling the pain of an overbearing and ruthless “Military Commander” of Kentucky named Stephen Burbridge. One of my favorite authors on the Civil War, Shelby Foote, was fond of saying that Kentucky waited until after the war to secede. General Stephen Burbridge was largely the reason for this change of sentiment. While the war raged in Kentucky in 1861 and 1862, the enemy was clearly defined. Whether Kentuckians were Unionists or Confederate sympathizers, the flag and the uniforms told them who the enemy was and they could act accordingly. In February of 1864, the former Colonel of the 26th Kentucky was appointed to replace Jeremiah T. Boyle in command of District of Kentucky. Prior to Burbridge, suspected secessionists fell victim to neighboring Unionists. After Burbridge suspected secessionists were still victimized by Unionists but now the Unionists could find support in the military leadership of the state. Governor Thomas Bramlette initially supported General Burbridge’s appointment but barely a year later the Governor said, “This unwarranted assumption of power by an imbecile commander is doubtless instigated by those who have long sought to provoke an issue with the State, and which I have prevented.”. President Lincoln soon replaced Burbridge with Major General John Palmer and the Butcher of Kentucky soon resigned his commission.
In these articles for the Kentucky History and Genealogy Network we will explore these topics and more. We hope we can help bring readers to a better understanding of Kentucky’s rich and vital Civil War history as well as our ancestors who took part in the war era. We believe that history should be engaging, interactive, and even entertaining. We look forward to taking you, dear reader, along with us for this ride.