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Kentucky History
© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 3

Historical Review 1.4   

Civil War

     Kentucky was a slave state with many pro-slavery advocates. This became apparent during the Mexican War (1849-1848). A number of Kentuckians migrated to Texas and participated in the Texas Revolution. Most Kentuckians welcomed the Mexican War and there were more volunteers from Kentucky than the army could take. The First Kentucky Mounted Regiment and the Second Kentucky Foot Regiment, who fought with Zachary Taylor, were most famous of the Kentucky regiments. Over 5,000 Kentuckians volunteered for the war, 77 were killed in action, and 509 died of disease or accident.

     There was also a formidable number of abolitionists in the state. Anti-slavery advocates were present prior to statehood. Presbyterian minister, David Rice, led the state's anti-slavery movement during the 1792 Kentucky constitutional convention, but the movement was put down when the constitution allowed slavery in the state. By 1827 there were eight anti-slavery societies present in Kentucky. Colonization societies were another aspect of the anti-slavery movement. The Kentucky Colonization Society formed in 1829, and by 1832 there were 31 colonization societies. These societies did not attempt to free slaves, instead they believed in gradual emancipation. They wanted to solve the slave issue by transporting all African-Americans to Liberia, Africa. Many black Kentuckians were taken there, and in 1851 the General Assembly required all freed slaves to leave the state.

     In 1860, after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, many slave owners were worried they might lose their right to own slaves. As a result, many slave states decided to secede from the United States to protect what they believed to be their constitutional right. Kentucky decided to remain neutral. The state was successful in remaining neutral for a number of months before finally siding with the Union. There is no accurate account of how many Kentuckians fought in the war, but it is estimated that 25,000 to 40,000 fought for the Confederacy, and 90,000 to 100,000 fought for the Union.

     Kentucky witnessed a lot of military action during the war, including a number of invasions. John Hunt Morgan led a raid through Kentucky in 1862. The group included 370 Kentuckians, recruiting 300 more during the raid. During the raid, 17 towns were captured and a good amount of Union supplies were destroyed. Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Department of East Tennessee, wanted to invade Kentucky because he believed there were many Kentuckians who supported the Confederacy and were waiting for an opportunity to join. On August 13, 1862 Smith made his move into Kentucky and captured Lexington and Frankfort. Raids continued throughout the war with the intention of distracting Union troops from the main front. Guerilla warfare, attacks carried out without official sanction, also took place in Kentucky.

Figure 3 Civil War Battle Sites


     The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to Kentucky or Delaware because they were slave states who joined with the Union, therefore not in rebellion. At the end of the war there were 65,000 black Kentuckians still enslaved. Many slaves left Kentucky during the war in quest of freedom, but those who stayed had to wait until the 13th Amendment was passed on December 18, 1865 to gain their freedom. When freedom came, blacks flocked to the cities to escape their former masters. Lexington's black population rose 130 percent between 1860 and 1870.

     Violence was an all too common occurrence during the Reconstruction period. Many blacks were run out of town. In Gallatin County 500 blacks were forced across the border into Ohio. Regulators and Ku Klux Klan members terrorized blacks throughout Kentucky, and between 1867 and 1871, more than 100 African Americans were lynched, and many others were killed by other acts of violence.

     The Freedmen's Bureau was set up throughout the south to help freed slaves start their new lives. They provided food and clothing, operated hospitals, and gave legal advice. The most important achievement of the Freedmen's Bureau was the school system they set up. In 1867 there were 97 schools with 117 teachers and 5,610 students. By 1869, Kentucky was home to 250 schools with 10,360 students. Eighty percent of the teachers hired in Kentucky to teach black students were black, unlike the Confederate South where predominantly white teachers were hired to teach black students. Violence reached into the school system as well; students were beaten and sometimes killed. Voting wasn't as restricted for blacks in Kentucky as it was farther south, and some blacks were even elected into political offices.

Life in Post-Civil War Kentucky

     Kentucky was a predominantly rural state, which resulted in many isolated and uneducated Kentuckians. In 1870, one quarter of Kentuckians over the age of ten were illiterate. This high illiteracy rate resulted in a very strong oral tradition. Many stories circulated of occultism and supernatural occurrences. In 1869 a woman in Owen County went on trial, accused of being a witch.

     Compared to the rest of the country, the population in Kentucky remained stagnant. This was due to constant out migration. The "new immigration" of eastern and southern Europeans to America did not touch Kentucky, except for a small presence attracted to the state's coalfields. Immigrant populations concentrated on the Ohio River cities of Covington, Newport, and Louisville. In these towns twenty percent of the population was foreign born. The foreigners in these areas were mainly Germans and Irish who came to America before the Civil War. Other parts of the state experienced no foreigners at all, and as of 1910, ninety percent of the population was native.

     The second half of the 19th century was also a time of much violence in Kentucky. Ku Klux Klan activity had somewhat died down, but the name was attached to many small regulator groups. The number of lynchings rose during this time. Between 1875 and 1900, 166 people were lynched in Kentucky, two-thirds of whom were black. These lynchers did not usually wear masks so their identities were often known, but still they were seldom punished. Feud violence also became a problem in Kentucky. In the Appalachians, families would carry on feuds for many years. The Rowan County War of the 1880s, also known as the Martin-Tolliver-Logan Feud, resulted in twenty deaths and sixteen injuries over a three-year period. The longest standing feud in all of the Appalachians was the Amis-Strong-Little Feud, which began in 1874 and ended in 1912. These feuds fed the stereotype of the Appalachian hillbilly, an ignorant, backward hick who put down his rifle only to pick up his jug of moonshine. Newspapers extended this stereotype to all Kentuckians, giving Kentucky a reputation during the later years of the 19th century that would last for decades.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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