Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Making Kentucky Southern
Before the Civil War, Kentucky was more Western than Southern. When the North and South collided over slavery, the heart was ripped from Kentucky. The state quickly declared neutrality, but neutrality in principle was much easier than neutrality in practice. By autumn, it was clear that the state would have to choose one side or the other. Uncertain of the vote, Union troops surrounded the capitol and refused to allow the legislature to meet until pro-Union forces had strong-armed enough legislators to win the vote. In one case, Pinkerton agents kidnapped a pro-Confederacy legislator and placed him between Union and Confederate lines in the hopes he would become a casualty of the war.
Voting to remain loyal didn’t end Kentucky’s deep divide. Union sympathizers organized Home Guards, Confederate sympathizers organized into State Guard militia units. Both groups poured money and supplies into their causes. Among the casualties of the conflict was the racing industry. Problems for racing interest arose when horse hungry armies began confiscating Kentucky’s beloved thoroughbreds. General Morgan, a native of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, was particularly good at finding and stealing the state’s prized racehorses. Racing stables had little redress for their losses.
The government was impotent at preventing the flow of horses and goods to the armies. The state house in Frankfort was surrounded by federal troops, and the legislature was prevented from meeting until President Lincoln was sure the state would not vote for secession. Meanwhile, President Davis and Confederate supporters set up a shadow government in Bowling Green and sent delegates to the southern legislature. Eventually the Union Army moved in to take charge, but dividing lines had already been drawn in each family. Through the long bloody war, Kentucky citizens bled through uniforms of both blue and gray.
Lee’s surrender may have marked the end of the war, but Kentucky’s troubles were destined to erupt in an array of new ways. The state government was in tatters, and readjustment (a word invented for Kentucky to justify martial law in a state that had remained in the Union) devastated the farming industry. Harsh fines and taxes imposed by the federal troops escalated to the point of bankruptcy for many Kentuckians. Washington compounded the problem by treating the state as a conquered territory.
The excesses of the federal government following the Civil War helped transform Kentucky into a solid Southern state. Within ten years of the war, travelers would be hard pressed to find any Kentuckian who admitted fighting for the North.