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Suggested Reading About Kentucky's Confederate History

June 1, 2017

 

To honor the 225th anniversary of Kentucky's statehood, here is an entry with a few thoughts on some of Kentucky's history, focusing on a subject related to the purpose of the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation. 

 

One of the fascinating aspects of Kentucky in the Civil War is how it remained in the Union, yet gained a reputation as a Confederate state. The phrase "Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the Civil War" is a popular cliche to describe this phenomenon, but it is so popular because, as with most clichés, there is a lot of truth behind it. The Confederate Monument and burial section in Cynthiana's Battle Grove Cemetery is just one example of a pro-Confederate symbol in this state. 

 

In recent years the study of the memory of the war and the image of people, items, and events associated with the Civil War has become more widespread, especially in the past two or three years.  Much of this has focused on Confederate images and symbols, and though Kentucky has not witnessed as much controversy as other states (the movement of a Confederate monument in Louisville and coveting up/reinterpretation of a mural at the University of Kentucky are two exceptions), several books in recent years have shed light on how, why and when Kentucky developed its image as a Confederate, not Union, State. I will mention a few of these that I am familiar with here, though I do not promise this will be a comprehensive listing. Surely other works exist, but here are some that readers interested in Kentucky history and image may want to read to start an exploration of this topic. 

 

Creating A Confederate Kentucky by Anne Marshall was the first such book I read and it remains perhaps my favorite Civil War era book. It shows how the actions of Kentucky late in the war years and in the decades afterwards crested this image. From ex-Confederates gaining political power in the post-war years, to popular literature focusing on the image of former Confederate soldiers, to memorials created mostly supporting the Confederacy instead of the Union, to violence throughout the state and the state's refusal to ratify the 13th Amendment (ending slavery), Marshall's work shows many different facets of Kentucky's association with a Confederate image.  It is a very valuable and detailed look at this subject, and probably the best book to use to start your study of this subject.

 

if you want some more background on Kentucky history prior to the war, Kentucky Rising by James Ramage and Andrea .Watkins explores the state's history and, importantly, reputation from the colonial era until the end of the Civil War. It ends just about where Marshall's study begins, do these two would make a good combination to read in Rader I wish I had done that in hindsight. 

 

One more recent book that I found to be almost like a prequel to Marshall's was For Slavery & Union by Patrick Lewis . It tells the story of Benjamin Buckner, a Union soldier who gradually became a critic of Union war policies and a post-war politician who fit in with the Confederate image. I thought the book told the tale of the birth of many of the subjects Marshall mentions. That may be an overstatement, but the experiences and changes Buckner went through do tie in with much of what Marshall discusses. This book provides a specific example of the more general concepts Marshall discusses.

 

Other books discussing Kentucky's ties with the Confederacy include How Kentucky Became Southern by MaryJean Wall. It discusses a lot of the horse-racing industry's development in the state but also explores the state's ties to the Confederacy. Kentucky Confederates by Berry Craig explores the "Jackson Purchase" region in the far southwestern area of the state and how Confederate support dominated that area during the war, including enlistment of soldiers and in political contests.

 

My Old Confederate Home by Rusty Williams describes the history of the Confederate Veterans' Home in Peewee Valley Kentucky, including how Kentucky politicians provided political and financial support for this Confederate institution, another symbol of the state's general comfort with the Confederate cause.

 

Finally, Kentucky's Rebel Town, by our own Bill Penn, explores the town of Cynthiana, located in Harrison County in north-central Kentucky and how and why this town, in the Bluegrass region of the state, a region which largely supported the Union cause, grew its own reputation for supporting the Confederate side, militarily and politically.  

 

Some of these books to focus on specific regions or people, but each adds specific and valuable information and perspectives to Marshall's work. Reading any or all of these works can provide a lot of perspective on how Kentucky's Civil War and post-War reputation came into being and expanded over time. 

 

With the current national controversy about Confederate monuments and iconography, now may be a good time to study the history of Kentucky as related to such Confederate images and these books are a few good sources for such stud

 

   

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