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Kentucky Confederates

Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 390
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky Confederates
    Book Description:

    During the Civil War, the majority of Kentuckians supported the Union under the leadership of Henry Clay, but one part of the state presented a striking exception. The Jackson Purchase -- bounded by the Mississippi River to the west, the Ohio River to the north, and the Tennessee River to the east -- fought hard for separation and secession, and produced eight times more Confederates than Union soldiers. Supporting states' rights and slavery, these eight counties in the westernmost part of the commonwealth were so pro-Confederate that the Purchase was dubbed "the South Carolina of Kentucky."

    The first dedicated study of this key region, Kentucky Confederates provides valuable insights into a misunderstood and understudied part of Civil War history. Author Berry Craig begins by exploring the development of the Purchase from 1818, when Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby acquired it from the Chickasaw tribe. Geographically isolated from the rest of the Bluegrass State, the area's early settlers came from the South, and rail and river trade linked the region to Memphis and western Tennessee rather than to points north and east.

    Craig draws from an impressive array of primary documents, including newspapers, letters, and diaries, to reveal the regional and national impact this unique territory had on the nation's greatest conflict. Offering an important new perspective on this rebellious borderland and its failed bid for secession, Kentucky Confederates will serve as the standard text on the subject for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4693-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction “The South Carolina of Kentucky”
    (pp. 1-10)

    During the Civil War, unionism prevailed to one degree or another in every region of Kentucky except one: the Jackson Purchase, the 2,396-square-mile territory west of the Tennessee River. The Purchase, comprising Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall, and McCracken Counties, is the Bluegrass State’s westernmost region, though during the Civil War, the territory was often called “Southern Kentucky” or “Southwestern Kentucky.” The Purchase was also Kentucky’s last frontier, Chickasaw country until 1818, when a treaty added the area to the Bluegrass State.¹

    All states have distinct regions. The Civil War made the Purchase unique to Kentucky. Dubbed “the...

  4. 1 Kentucky’s South Carolina
    (pp. 11-54)

    Geography, early settlement patterns, trade ties, proslavery Democratic politics, and evangelical Christian religion all helped make the Jackson Purchase Kentucky’s only Confederate region. But the most crucial factor was the growth of an economy rooted in slavery. Statewide, slavery declined in Kentucky after 1830, but it grew in the Purchase. To be sure, the difference between the Purchase and the rest of the state was not readily apparent until the Civil War, when the territory west of the Tennessee River was nicknamed “the South Carolina of Kentucky” for the first state to leave the Union. Likewise, Paducah, the region’s principal...

  5. 2 Armies on the Border
    (pp. 55-70)

    On April 12, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, and suddenly the nation was at war. President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to put down the rebellion, and the free states quickly responded with an outpouring of eager enlistees. Kentuckians, ever ready to fight in wars, were loath to spill the blood of fellow Americans. So the state declared itself neutral within the Union. Neutrality represented majority sentiment in every Bluegrass State region except the Purchase. War made the Purchase even more solidly secessionist.

    News of the Fort Sumter attack reached Paducah via telegraph on April 13, throwing the...

  6. 3 The Mayfield Convention
    (pp. 71-92)

    While the weather warmed in the Purchase, the people grew even cooler toward neutrality. The firing on Fort Sumter caused four more slave states to exit the Union: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. By joining South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, they expanded the Confederacy to eleven states. The Confederate capital ultimately switched to Richmond, the capital of Virginia, Kentucky’s parent state. Meanwhile, some leading Purchase secessionists even talked of the region forming a military alliance with Tennessee or separating from the rest of Kentucky and forming a Confederate state with West Tennessee shortly before the...

  7. 4 Flag Snatching and Gun Grabbing
    (pp. 93-110)

    The Purchase, squeezed between hostile armies a mere fifty miles apart, looked like the place where neutrality was most likely to be violated. Citizens sweated, and not just from the June heat. Both sides coveted Columbus, where the local secessionist majority feared the Yankees might beat the Rebels to town, especially after they captured the town flag.

    Buckner was powerless against the warm weather, but he could at least try to cool passions. To that end, on June 8, he traveled to Cincinnati to meet McClellan. The Yankee general agreed to abide by Kentucky neutrality, and the state guard commander...

  8. 5 Politics, Pirates, and More Purchase Perfidy
    (pp. 111-134)

    The Purchase stayed stuck in the status quo as summer wore on. The Yankees were still at Cairo; the Rebels were at Union City and other points in West Tennessee. Kentucky was officially off limits to both sides. But perceived military necessity soon trumped political considerations. Paducah-based pirates helped turn the Union side toward invading Kentucky. Likewise, when the Rebels feared the Yankees were about to grab Columbus, they were determined to get there first. Thus, the Bluegrass State’s precarious, if ultimately untenable, neutrality ended in the Purchase.

    On July 12, Major General Leonidas Polk took command of Confederate Military...

  9. 6 “Abolition Invaders” and Rebel Deliverers
    (pp. 135-166)

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”; these are the oft-quoted opening words ofA Tale of Two Cities,Charles Dickens’s famous novel set in London and Paris during the French Revolution. The prose might also apply to the Jackson Purchase in September 1861. It was the best of times for most citizens of Hickman and Columbus and other Rebel-run territory in the region. They were overjoyed with the advent of soldiers they saw as their salvation from the “abolitionist” army at Cairo. On the other hand, the secessionist majority in Paducah and its environs...

  10. 7 Gibraltar Crumbles
    (pp. 167-182)

    January 1, 1862, marked less than a happy New Year for most of Paducah’s citizenry. The Yankees had been in their midst for almost four months. It seemed less and less likely that the Rebels would rescue them from the “abolition invaders.” Yet it soon went from bad to worse for the secessionist majority in the Purchase—and minority in the rest of the Kentucky. Confederate sympathizers were branded as disloyal by their own state government and denied the vote, jailed, or otherwise punished. Even so, most Purchase secessionists remained resolutely Rebel, eagerly smuggling supplies to the Confederates, spying for...

  11. 8 Yankee Occupation
    (pp. 183-194)

    After driving the Confederates out of Kentucky, Union forces seemed unstoppable in the Western Theater of the war. As the Yankees pushed the enemy ever southward, Purchase hopes for a Confederate reconquest of the region dimmed further. With Union troops to protect them, the Unionist minority asserted themselves. But this was a conservative Unionist group. Almost all of them favored the preservation of the Union with slavery. Though they detested the region’s pro-Confederate majority, almost every Purchase Unionist shared the secessionists’ disdain for abolitionism, Lincoln, and his Emancipation Proclamation.

    The Yankees permitted no rest for the weary Rebels at New...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 9 Traitors Beware
    (pp. 195-214)

    The Emancipation Proclamation, though it did not apply to Kentucky, added more strain to the fraying relationship between Lincoln and his native state. All along, almost all Kentucky Unionists favored a Union with slavery. Nearly every Kentucky soldier in blue was fighting for the preservation of the Union, not for the abolition of slavery. Across the state, thousands of Kentuckians who were prowar turned to the “Peace” Democrats. The Purchase stayed stubbornly secessionist.

    When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, it brewed in Kentucky a “storm of disapproval . . . which had never been equalled up...

  14. 10 The Battle of Paducah
    (pp. 215-246)

    As 1863 waned, so did Rebel fortunes of war. Grant’s capture of Vicksburg and Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, occurring simultaneously in July, turned the tide in favor of the Union. Afterward, even the most ardent Confederates—including those in Kentucky’s “South Carolina”—must have known, or at least feared, all would be lost sooner or later. Yet the Purchase stayed Confederate, its secessionist majority perhaps hoping for a miracle. Forrest’s cavalry raided Paducah in March 1864, boosting Rebel spirits. But like Polk’s army in 1861, these latter-day “deliverers” also departed, again leaving the rebellious citizenry to the ever-present “Abolition Invaders.”...

  15. 11 Still Disloyal
    (pp. 247-260)

    As much as it disappointed Purchase secessionists to see Forrest leave, their discomfiture increased with the return of their “General Pain.” E. A. Paine came back in July. He was sure that sparing the rod spoiled the secesh. He ended up being portrayed—even today—as the worst villain in Purchase history, the region’s Robespierre, whose “reign of terror” allegedly included wholesale murder, though by firing squad, not guillotine. The Purchase’s secessionist majority saw Paine as the vilest sort of Yankee: an abolitionist, a Republican, a friend of Lincoln, and an egalitarian given to treating African Americans and whites equally....

  16. 12 A Paine in the Purchase
    (pp. 261-280)

    Brigadier General Eleazer A. Paine’s time in the Purchase lasted fewer than three months. Short as the stint was, it became known as Paine’s “reign of terror.” His successor, Brigadier General Solomon Meredith, eased up on the “South Carolina of Kentucky.” But Meredith’s carrot was hardly more successful than Paine’s stick in making many good Unionists in the Purchase. The seven counties west of the Tennessee River ended the war the way they started, as the state’s sole Rebel region.

    History is replete with irony. Paine is probably the most hated man in Jackson Purchase history, yet he supposedly looked...

  17. 13 Rebel to the End and Beyond
    (pp. 281-294)

    By the fall of 1864, even the most diehard of Purchase secessionists surely knew that Confederate defeat was almost certain. Forrest boosted their spirits again, but only fleetingly, by occupying Fort Heiman in remote southeastern Calloway County and shooting up Yankee boats on the Tennessee River. He soon headed upriver to shell and burn the big Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee. Like his Paducah raid, Forrest’s foray grabbed newspaper headlines but did not change the war’s inevitable outcome. Nor did the Purchase vote have any effect on the presidential election. Paine was court-martialed in early 1865 but was acquitted...

  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 295-296)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 297-330)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-340)
  21. Index
    (pp. 341-366)