Tag Archives: Beriah Magoffin

Turmoil in Kentucky

September 24, 1861 – Federal Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, hero of Fort Sumter, tried calming tensions in Kentucky, but the state was quickly being torn apart by both sides.

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Brig-Gen Robert Anderson | Image Credit: cenantua.wordpress.com

Kentucky’s neutrality had been compromised by Federals for several months before Confederates officially broke it by occupying Hickman and Columbus. To make matters worse, the state government was divided between a Unionist legislature and a governor with Confederate sympathies. The legislators applauded a visit from General Anderson on September 7, the same day that the Kentucky Senate approved a resolution:

“Resolved… That the special committee of the Senate, raised for the purpose of considering the reported occupation of Hickman and other points in Kentucky by Confederate troops, take into consideration the occupation of Paducah and other places in Kentucky by the Federal authorities, and report thereon when the true state of the case shall have been ascertained. That the Speaker appoint three members of the Senate to visit southern Kentucky, who are directed to obtain all the facts they can in reference to the recent occupation of Kentucky soil by Confederate and Federal forces, and report in writing at as early a day as practicable.”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederates occupying the Columbus area complied with orders to explain his actions to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin by informing the governor that he had entered the state based on “information upon which I could rely that the Federal forces intended and were preparing to seize Columbus.” Polk also pledged “to withdraw if the Federal troops would leave the State and promise not to occupy any part of it in the future.”

Of course, the Federals would not leave Kentucky, as they had worked for months to keep the state in the Union by running guns and recruiting volunteers there. An article in the Kentucky Yeoman described the situation: “Who did not know that the establishment of (military) camps in our State, by one of the belligerent powers, would necessarily lead to the seizure of strategic points by the other?… If Kentucky suffers one of the belligerents to occupy our soil, she cannot expect the other to keep off.”

Some Confederate officials urged Polk to follow the letter of the law and leave Kentucky. But President Jefferson Davis ordered him to stay put. This did not satisfy the legislature. State Senator J.M. Johnson, chairman of the committee appointed to investigate the invasions, wrote to Polk on September 9:

“The people of Kentucky, having with great unanimity determined upon a position of neutrality in the unhappy war now being waged, and which they had tried in vain to prevent, had hoped that one place at least in this great nation might remain uninvaded by passion, and through whose good office something might be done to end the war, or at least to mitigate its horrors, or, if this were not possible, that she might be left to choose her destiny without disturbance from any quarter. In obedience to the thrice-repeated will of the people, as expressed at the polls, and in their name, I ask you to withdraw your forces from the soil of Kentucky.”

Polk quickly responded:

“The first and only instance in which the neutrality of Kentucky has been disregarded is that in which the troops under my command, and by my direction, took possession of the place I now hold, and so much of the territory between it and the Tennessee line as was necessary for me to pass over in order to reach it. This act finds abundant justification in the history of the concessions granted to the Federal Government by Kentucky ever since the war began, notwithstanding the position of neutrality which she had assumed, and the firmness with which she proclaimed her intention to maintain it… We are here… not by choice, but of necessity, and as I have had the honor to say, in a communication addressed to his Excellency Governor Magoffin, a copy of which is herewith inclosed and submitted as a part of my reply, so I now repeat in answer to your request, that I am prepared to agree to withdraw the Confederate troops from Kentucky, provided she will agree that the troops of the Federal Government be withdrawn simultaneously, with a guarantee (which I will give reciprocally for the Confederate Government) that the Federal troops shall not be allowed to enter nor occupy any part of Kentucky for the future.”

Not only was Polk staying, but more Confederates would soon enter Kentucky. Brigadier-General Felix Zollicoffer, commanding 7,000 Confederates at Knoxville, received orders from Richmond: “The neutrality of Kentucky has been broken by the occupation of Paducah by the Federal forces. Take the arms.” Zollicoffer notified Governor Magoffin:

“The safety of Tennessee requiring, I occupy the mountain passes at Cumberland, and the three long mountains in Kentucky. For weeks, I have known that the Federal commander at Hoskins’ Cross Roads was threatening the invasion of East Tennessee, and ruthlessly urging our people to destroy our own road and bridges… Tennessee feels, and has ever felt, towards Kentucky as a twin-sister… If the Federal force will now withdraw from their menacing position, the force under my command shall immediately be withdrawn.”

A portion of Zollicoffer’s force advanced from eastern Tennessee and scattered 300 Unionist home guards from Camp Andrew Johnson at Barboursville, Kentucky. The Confederates burned anything that the Federals could use so they would not return.

Prominent Kentuckian Simon B. Buckner, who had declined offers from President Lincoln to become a Federal general, accepted a commission as a Confederate brigadier-general. He urged his fellow Kentuckians to “defend their homes against the invasion of the North.” General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater) directed him to take 5,000 troops by train from Nashville to Bowling Green.

Buckner’s Confederates took Bowling Green on the 18th, as Buckner proclaimed the region the Central Division of Kentucky. Bowling Green was the strongest point from which the Confederates could protect the vital transportation and manufacturing resources of Nashville, with the Green and Barren rivers hindering a Federal advance from the north.

Buckner issued a proclamation “To the People of Kentucky,” in which he urged his fellow Kentuckians to defy their state officials who “have been faithless to the will of the people.” Legislators had used the “guise of neutrality” to allow “the armed forces of the United States” to “prepare to subjugate alike the people of Kentucky and the Southern States.”

Buckner declared that his force, “made up entirely of Kentuckians,” would only use Bowling Green “as a defensive position.” Moreover, all Confederate forces in the state “will be used to aid the government of Kentucky in carrying out the strict neutrality desired by its people whenever they undertake to enforce it against the two belligerents alike.”

Thus, Johnston created a skeletal line across Kentucky hinged on Columbus in the west under Polk, Bowling Green in the center under Buckner, and Cumberland Gap in the east under Zollicoffer. This line was intended to defend against any Federal attempts to invade Tennessee and the Deep South. However, the Confederates were outnumbered two-to-one, with two Federal departments operating in Kentucky: a detachment of the Department of the West under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant at Paducah, and General Anderson’s Department of the Cumberland based at Louisville.

Meanwhile, the Unionist legislature approved a resolution urging Federals to drive the Confederates out of Kentucky. The legislators overrode Governor Magoffin’s veto to make it law. It declared that since the state had been “invaded by the forces of the so-called Confederate States… the invaders must be expelled.”

By a three-to-one margin, the legislators voted for General Anderson to raise a volunteer militia force and Magoffin to mobilize existing militia units to expel the Confederate forces. Magoffin vetoed the measures, arguing that the legislature was illegally trying to usurp his authority as militia commander in chief. The legislature approved another resolution assuring Confederate sympathizers that their rights and views would be respected.

Anderson received orders on the 20th to move his headquarters from Cincinnati to Louisville and begin recruiting Federal forces in Kentucky. Anderson was to organize volunteers and oversee their armament and training despite Magoffin’s veto. Federal forces advanced and compelled Confederates to abandon Mayfield. He issued his proclamation on the 23rd, seeking to assure loyal Kentuckians their rights would be protected. However, the warning to arrest anyone helping the opposition led to a surge in arrests.

Federal authorities arrested several prominent Kentuckians for aiding “secessionists,” including James Clay (son of Henry Clay), Reuben Durrett, and former Governor Charles Morehead. Durrett and Morehead were imprisoned at Fort Lafayette, New York. Leading politicians were arrested in Harrison County, and employees of the Louisville Courier were also seized and the newspaper closed for alleged anti-Unionist sentiments.

While Kentucky was being pulled in both directions, a “peace convention” was organized in the hope of finding some middle ground. The delegates, mostly exiled States’ Rights Party members, demanded that Federals close their military camps and that Confederates withdraw from the state so Kentucky could remain neutral. They also denounced the Lincoln administration for provoking war and condemned Major General John C. Fremont’s emancipation proclamation in Missouri.

The battle for Kentucky was far from over.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6885-907, 6918-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 74-77; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 63-69; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-21; 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), p. 296; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 53-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 200-02; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

The End of Neutral Kentucky

September 3, 1861 – Kentucky’s neutrality, which had been in question for several months, officially ended when Confederate forces entered the state ahead of the Federals.

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On the same day that the new Unionist Kentucky legislature approved raising the U.S. flag over the State House at Frankfort, Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Western Theater, received news that Federal forces were gathering across the Mississippi River from Kentucky.

Federals had already encroached upon the state’s avowed neutrality by arranging the election of a Unionist legislature, recruiting troops, and training them at Camp Dick Robinson. Kentucky’s Federal congressmen had already voted to pay for arming and supplying men to destroy the Confederacy, and in late August Major General John C. Fremont (without authorization) had directed Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant to openly violate Kentucky’s neutrality by leading Federal troops into the state.

Polk therefore resolved to beat Grant to the punch, directing Major General Gideon Pillow’s forces to advance northward and seize Columbus, a key Kentucky town on the Mississippi. Situated upon a high bluff, Columbus commanded the waterway between the Federal base at Cairo, Illinois, and the Confederates in northwestern Tennessee. It was also the northern terminus of the important Mobile & Ohio Railroad.

Pillow loaded his troops on transports at New Madrid, Missouri, and steamed upriver to seize Hickman, just below Columbus, which was covered by Federal artillery; the Confederates took Columbus shortly thereafter. Most residents welcomed the troops as protectors from the threatening Federal cannon across the river. Polk had hinted to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin that his forces may invade the state, having informed him that the Confederates “should be ahead of the enemy in occupying Columbus and Paducah.”

Occupying Columbus created a war front that now extended from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the American frontier. Unionists protested that the Confederate military had violated Kentucky’s neutrality first, disregarding prior Federal encroachments as well as the fact that the Federal military had planned to invade the state just one day later.

Some Kentuckians resented the Confederacy for violating the state’s neutrality first, causing a rise in Unionist sentiment. Others welcomed the Confederates as protectors. Polk argued that he had ordered his troops into Kentucky to counter the Federals, who “in defiance of the wishes of the people of Kentucky, disregarded their neutrality by establishing camp depots for their armies, and by organizing military companies within the territory, and by constructing military works on the Missouri shore immediately opposite and commanding Columbus, evidently intended to cover the landing of troops for the seizure of that town.”

Not all Confederates supported Polk’s move. Tennessee Governor Isham Harris wrote to Polk calling the action “unfortunate, as the President and myself are pledged to respect the neutrality of Kentucky.” Unless the Confederate “presence there is an absolute necessity,” according to Harris, it should be “withdrawn instantly.”

Polk responded on the 4th: “I regret that a movement so entirely acceptable to the people of Kentucky… and so essential to the security of Western Tennessee, does not permit me, in the exercise of the above authority, to concur with your views.” Polk asserted that he “had never received official information that the President and yourself had determined upon any particular course in reference to the State of Kentucky.”

That same day, Confederate Secretary of War LeRoy Walker telegraphed Polk to lead his troops on a “prompt withdrawal from Kentucky.” Before receiving Walker’s message, Polk wrote to President Jefferson Davis:

“The enemy having descended the Mississippi River some three or four days since, and seated himself with cannon and entrenched lines opposite the town of Columbus, Kentucky, making such demonstrations as left no doubt upon the minds of any of their intention to seize and forcibly possess said town, I thought proper, under the plenary power delegated to me, to direct a sufficient portion of my command both by the river way and land to concentrate at Columbus, as well to offer to its citizens that protection they unite to a man in accepting, as also to prevent, in time, the occupation by the enemy of a point so necessary to the security of western Tennessee. The demonstration on my part has had the desired effect. The enemy has withdrawn his forces even before I had fortified my position. It is my intention to continue to occupy and hold this place.”

Davis overruled the secretary of war and supported Polk.

Meanwhile, Federal gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler traded fire with Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Yankee and fired on Confederate shore batteries at Hickman. Commander John Rodgers of Tyler observed that Confederates had assembled a large force and a battery at Hickman to fire on Federal vessels trying to pass. Rodgers later reported that “the (Confederate) army at Hickman is considerable.”

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

At the Federal base in Cairo, General Grant received intelligence on September 5 that Confederates were advancing from Columbus to occupy Paducah, 40 miles away at the important confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, with the equally important Cumberland River nearby. Grant shared this information with Fremont at St. Louis and stated that he would begin moving that night to get to Paducah first unless Fremont objected. Hearing nothing back, Grant assembled his troops on steamers just before midnight.

At St. Louis, Fremont received Grant’s dispatches and informed his superiors that the Confederates, having captured Columbus and Hickman, would likely seize Paducah the next day. He issued orders to Grant to both establish a foothold in Kentucky and pursue withdrawing Confederates to New Madrid in Missouri, “taking Charleston and Sikeston, as well as holding Belmont.” However, Grant did not receive those orders before making “preliminary arrangements” and informing Fremont, “I am now ready for Paducah.”

Three Federal army transport steamers, protected by the gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler, traveled 45 miles down the Mississippi and arrived at Paducah around 8:30 a.m. on the 6th. The small Confederate force in the town quickly evacuated by rail. Most residents supporting secession rushed to pull down their Confederate flags as Grant directed the raising of U.S. flags over the public buildings.

As Federals seized the railroad and telegraph offices, Grant issued a “Proclamation, To The Citizens of Paducah” which began: “I have come among you, not as an enemy, but as your friend and fellow-citizen, not to injure or annoy you, but to respect the rights, and to defend and enforce the rights of all loyal citizens.” Grant declared that “an enemy, in rebellion against our common Government,” was “moving upon your city” after invading Kentucky. Grant assured residents that his troops were there to “defend you against this enemy… and maintain the authority and sovereignty of your Government and mine.”

It was soon discovered that no Confederates were headed toward Paducah from Columbus. Nevertheless, Grant’s bold, bloodless action prevented Polk from moving closer to the Ohio River to threaten Illinois and possibly take control of all Kentucky. Taking Paducah earned Grant the respect of his troops. It also demonstrated Grant’s skill in conducting joint army-navy operations.

Grant issued orders for the troops to take “special care and precaution that no harm is done to inoffensive citizens.” Looting was prohibited, but Grant permitted his men to take all money from the town banks and store it on one of the gunboats in case of a Confederate attack.

Placing the highly respected Brigadier General Charles F. Smith in command of Federal forces in western Kentucky, Grant returned to Cairo around 12 p.m. There he finally received Fremont’s order to take not only Paducah but points along the Mississippi in Missouri. The orders had been written by one of Fremont’s Hungarian staff officers and could not be understood.

The question over whether Kentucky would stay neutral was now settled. From this point on Federals and Confederates would battle to control the state.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 114; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6873, 6885, 6965-78, 6989; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-73; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-62; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 135-36; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 114-15; 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), p. 295-96; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46, 70-71; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 198-200; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 413-14; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Federals Threaten Kentucky’s Neutrality

August 19, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin urging the removal of Federal troops from the state to in an effort to maintain neutrality in the conflict.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federal military presence in Kentucky continued to threaten that state’s tenuous neutrality. It also helped Unionists get elected to the Kentucky legislature, as Unionists won majorities in the August 5 elections of 76-24 in the House of Representatives and 27-11 in the Senate. This was a greater Unionist victory than the June 20 election. Prior to this contest, Lincoln had resisted banning trade with the Confederacy through Kentucky in fear of forcing that state to go Confederate. But this election emboldened Lincoln to issue a proclamation banning trade with all “rebellious” states.

Meanwhile, Unionists established Camp “Dick Robinson” near Lexington. The camp attracted recruits from Ohio, as well as mountaineers from eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. Although they declared that they were simply “Home Guards” organizing only for defense, secessionists and neutralists argued that the camp blatantly violated Kentucky’s neutrality.

Soon afterward Brigadier General Robert Anderson, the Federal commander at Fort Sumter who had been in command of Federals in Kentucky, was given command of the Department of the Cumberland. This encompassed not only Kentucky but also Tennessee, except for the part of Kentucky bordering Cincinnati belonging to the Department of the Ohio and a part of western Tennessee along the Mississippi River belonging to the Department of the West.

As a native Kentuckian, Anderson set up headquarters in Cincinnati to avoid embarrassing his “neutral” home state. The growing tensions between the Unionists and the neutralists and secessionists ultimately afflicted Anderson, already in frail health, with nervous exhaustion.

To stop any further Federal encroachment on Kentucky neutrality, two commissioners delivered a letter from Governor Magoffin to President Lincoln on the 19th. Magoffin wrote:

“From the commencement of the unhappy hostilities now pending in this country, the people of Kentucky have indicated an earnest desire and purpose, as far as lay in their power, while maintaining their original political status, to do nothing by which to involve themselves in the war. Up to this time they have succeeded in securing to themselves and to the State peace and tranquillity as the fruits of the policy they adopted. My single object now is to promote the continuance of these blessings to this State…

“Now, therefore, as Governor of the State of Kentucky, and in the name of the people I have the honor to represent, and with the single and earnest desire to avert from their peaceful homes the horrors of war, I urge the removal from the limits of Kentucky of the military force now organized and in camp within the State. If such action as is here urged be promptly taken, I firmly believe the peace of the people of Kentucky will be preserved, and the horrors of a bloody war will be averted from a people now peaceful and tranquil.”

Lincoln responded five days later:

“I may not possess full and precisely accurate knowledge upon this subject; but I believe it is true that there is a military force in camp within Kentucky, acting by authority of the United States, which force is not very large, and is not now being augmented… In all I have done in the premises, I have acted upon the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and in accordance with what I believed, and still believe, to be the wish of a majority of all the Union-loving people of Kentucky…”

Lincoln asserted that “While I have conversed on this subject with many eminent men of Kentucky, including a large majority of her Members of Congress, I do not remember that any one of them, or any other person, except your Excellency and the bearers of your Excellency’s letter, has urged me to remove the military force from Kentucky, or to disband it.” Lincoln went on:

“Taking all the means within my reach to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits; and, with this impression, I must respectfully decline to so remove it. I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky. It is with regret I search for, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration or intimation that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.”

That same day, George W. Johnson delivered a letter from Magoffin to President Jefferson Davis:

“Recently a military force has been enlisted and quartered by the United States authorities within this State… Although I have no reason to presume that the Government of the Confederate States contemplate or have ever proposed any violation of the neutral attitude thus assumed by Kentucky, there seems to be some uneasiness felt among the people of some portion of the State, occasioned by the collection of bodies of troops along their southern frontier. In order to quiet this apprehension, and to secure to the people their cherished object of peace, this communication is to present these facts and elicit an authoritative assurance that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect and observe the position indicated as assumed by Kentucky.”

Davis responded to Magoffin on the 28th:

“In reply to this request, I lose no time in assuring you that the Government of the Confederate States neither desires nor intends to disturb the neutrality of Kentucky… The Government of the Confederate States has not only respected most scrupulously the neutrality of Kentucky, but has continued to maintain the friendly relations of trade and intercourse which it has suspended with the United States generally.

“In view of the history of the past, it can scarcely be necessary to assure your Excellency that the Government of the Confederate States will continue to respect the neutrality of Kentucky so long as her people will maintain it themselves. But neutrality, to be entitled to respect, must be strictly maintained between both parties; or, if the door be opened on the one side for the aggressions of one of the belligerent parties upon the other, it ought not to be shut to the assailed when they seek to enter it for purposes of self-defense. I do not, however, for a moment believe that your gallant State will suffer its soil to be used for the purpose of giving an advantage to those who violate its neutrality and disregard its rights, over others who respect both.”

It would be only a matter of time before the two warring factions brought their conflict onto Kentucky soil. A prelude to that clash came on August 22, when U.S.S. Lexington, a Federal side-wheeled steamboat-turned-timberclad gunboat, captured the Confederate steamer W.B. Terry at Paducah. Confederates fled aboard the steamer Samuel Orr up the Tennessee River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6790-873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 64, 67-68, 70; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 397-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54, 56, 58; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06, 109, 111; 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), p. 294-95; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-71; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 199; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 196; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

Neutral Kentucky Leans Toward Union

June 20, 1861 – Pro-Confederate Kentuckians boycotted an election that resulted in several pro-Union candidates winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kentucky had been torn between sympathizers of the Confederacy and the U.S. since the war began. Governor Beriah Magoffin, who leaned toward the Confederacy, authorized the payment of $60,000 for weapons to arm secessionists. However, the guns were defective, having been sold by a northern sympathizer. 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 called these “Lincoln guns,” a name in which Unionists took pride.

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky militia commander Simon B. Buckner | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On June 8, Federal Major General George B. McClellan reached an agreement with Simon B. Buckner, commanding 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 into Kentucky to do so, pledging to leave the state once the Confederates were expelled.

Tensions increased along the Mississippi River and Kentucky’s southern border. 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 in Nashville to respect Kentucky’s neutrality by keeping Confederate troops out of that state.

On June 20, 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 rejected 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 last November’s elections.

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

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Sources

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 85; 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), p. 295; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261

Keeping Kentucky and Missouri Loyal

April 26, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln met with a Kentucky Unionist to keep that state loyal, while Federal troops in Missouri worked to keep weapons out of secessionist hands.

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Kentucky State Flag | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

On April 17, Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers to destroy the Confederacy: “Your dispatch is received. I say emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states.” Magoffin received support from both Unionists and secessionists in his state, largely because Kentuckians sought neutrality in any struggle between North and South.

Kentucky’s dominance of the Ohio River meant that if it joined the Confederacy, the state could threaten Ohio’s security and even the Great Lakes trade that furnished the material for northern factories, foundries, and furnaces. On the other hand, if Kentucky joined the U.S., it could threaten Tennessee’s security. Thus, both the Federals and Confederates handled Kentucky with caution out of fear it would join the opposing side.

Secessionists had the influential support of Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan. Addressing a large crowd at Louisville, Breckinridge denounced Lincoln’s militia proclamation as illegal. Governor Magoffin also began leaning toward the Confederacy; on the 24th he called on militia to defend the state and scheduled the legislature to meet in special session on May 5. Magoffin sought to persuade legislators to abandon “neutrality” and follow Tennessee’s lead in aiding the Confederacy.

To combat the secessionist wave, Lincoln met with Garret Davis, a prime leader of Kentucky’s Union Party. Lincoln assured Davis that he did not intend to occupy Kentucky, even though “he had the unquestioned right at all times to march the United States troops into and over any and every state.” As long as the state “made no demonstration of force against the United States, he would not molest her.” This satisfied Davis that Lincoln would not invade Kentucky if the state maintained its neutrality.

Meanwhile another vital border state, Missouri, also began moving toward the Confederacy. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson strongly rejected Lincoln’s call for 3,123 men from his state:

“Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary in its object, inhuman and diabolical, and cannot be complied with. Not one man will the State of Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade.”

Jackson then wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis requesting artillery to help Missourians seize the 60,000 stands of arms at the Federal arsenal in St. Louis.

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Missouri State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Sensing that the situation in Missouri was more ominous than Kentucky, the Lincoln administration moved more aggressively against secessionism. On the 23rd the War Department recalled General William S. Harney, the renowned commander of the Department of the West, from his St. Louis headquarters to Washington to discuss strategy. Politician Francis P. Blair, Jr., representing Republican interests in Missouri, had persuaded the Lincoln administration to pull Harney out so command would pass to Captain Nathaniel Lyon, a fellow Republican. The command included the vital St. Louis arsenal.

A second order, orchestrated by Blair, granted Lyon extraordinary powers in Harney’s absence to “muster into the service the 4 regiments which the Governor had refused to furnish” according to President Lincoln’s militia proclamation. Lyon was to raise as many as 10,000 recruits to maintain Federal control of St. Louis; he had already been secretly arming a force of primarily German immigrants called the Republican Home Guards.

Meanwhile, President Davis wrote to Governor Jackson confirming that Jackson’s envoys had arrived in Montgomery and declaring that the Confederate government would support Missouri secessionists if they seized the St. Louis arsenal. Davis hoped that such support would entice Missouri into joining the Confederacy.

Lyon soon learned that Jackson was organizing 700 secessionist militiamen in western St. Louis. He and Blair responded by enlisting militia Captain James H. Stokes of Chicago into Federal service by transferring muskets from the arsenal across the Mississippi River to Illinois.

Rumors of Lyon’s order to Stokes spread throughout St. Louis, and a crowd of secessionists gathered at the arsenal on the night of the 25th. Lyon decoyed them by positioning several thousand troops on hills around the city while sending boxes of obsolete flintlock muskets to a docked steamboat. As the crowd seized these boxes, Stokes and his Illinois troops docked another steamboat near midnight. They made off with over 10,000 modern muskets and other supplies.

The arms were safely transferred to Alton, Illinois, where they were distributed to Illinois militia. On April 30, Secretary of War Simon Cameron expanded Lyon’s authority even further by authorizing him to declare martial law and enforce it with his rapidly increasing force. Granting Lyon these sweeping powers while depriving Missourians of weapons proved a serious detriment to secessionist aspirations.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 41-42, 43
  • Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 86
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7238
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 13-15
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 35-38
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  • 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), p. 290-91
  • Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11-15
  • White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261