Neutral Kentucky Leans North

Kentucky had been torn between secessionists and Unionists since the war began. Governor Beriah Magoffin leaned toward the Confederacy and authorized spending $60,000 for weapons to arm secessionists. However, the guns were defective, having been sold by a U.S. supporter. Meanwhile, Federal Lieutenant William Nelson furnished 5,000 guns to Kentucky Unionists, and former Congressman Emerson Etheridge distributed 1,000 guns to Unionists in eastern Tennessee. Confederate sympathizers derisively called these “Lincoln guns,” but the Unionists took pride in the name.

Federal Major General George B. McClellan reached an agreement with Simon B. Buckner, commander of the Kentucky militia. Buckner pledged to protect Federal property, enforce Federal laws, and prevent Confederate forces from entering the state. However, if Buckner could not stop the Confederates, then McClellan would send a force of his own into Kentucky to do so, with the pledge that the force would leave the state once the Confederates were expelled.

Tensions increased along the Mississippi River and Kentucky’s southern border this month. The steamer City of Alton, moving down the Mississippi from Cairo, Illinois, spotted a Confederate flag on the Kentucky shore about five miles south of Columbus. Federal crewmen went ashore and seized the banner. Meanwhile, Buckner reached an agreement with Tennessee Governor Isham Harris to respect Kentucky’s neutrality by keeping Confederate troops out of that state.

On the 20th, a special election took place for Kentucky’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Most secessionists belonging to the States Rights Party boycotted the election because they resented the pro-U.S. state government and did not want their elected officials working with the Republican majority in Washington. Consequently, Union Party candidates won over 70 percent of the popular vote and gained five of the six seats. The total number of ballots cast was less than half of the total in the 1860 presidential election.

Kentucky would continue to have its share of internal conflict in the coming months.


  • Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 1. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.

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