Sunday, July 17, 2011

Historical: Kentucky's Confederate Legislature

At the onset of the Civil War, Kentucky’s elected government was Union in its sympathies. Many citizens of the state, particularly those in the Bluegrass Region, were equally resolute in their support of the Confederacy. Even though Southern support was most common in the Bluegrass, hostilities in the North/South debate were not as clearly drawn as regional differences appear on the surface. The debate had raged for years in almost every household. When war came, brothers, and, sometimes, fathers and sons met on the battlefield. There was, however, enough support for the Confederacy to lead to the creation of a shadow government in Kentucky.

On October 29, 1861, representatives from 68 counties traveled to Russellville, Kentucky for the express purpose of planning a Confederate Government for the state. At the month long session, delegates voted for secession, created a new state seal, set Bowling Green as their state capital, and elected General George W. Johnson governor.

President Jefferson Davis had some reservations about circumventing the duly elected Kentucky Legislature in forming the new government. Copperhead members of the Knights of the Golden Circle convinced Davis that thousands of Kentuckians were ready to rise up and join the Southern cause once the state was part of the Confederacy. Hungry for troops from his home state, Davis put aside his ethical reservations. Kentucky’s Confederate government was recognized, and Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861.

Kentucky is represented by the center star on the Confederate Flag, giving the state the unique position of being both a Northern and Southern state at the same time.

There was great hope that the shadow government would be able to funnel troops and money to the Confederacy. Those hopes were consistently crushed. The Confederate State of Kentucky had little impact on the war effort either in or outside Kentucky. General Johnson had to withdraw from Bowling Green in 1862. The Confederate government left with him, traveling with the Army of Tennessee until Johnson’s death at the Battle of Shiloh. They made one attempt to reenter the state, but were driven out permanently with the Confederate loss at the Battle of Perryville.

Our shadow government existed only for the duration of the war. Its legacy continues in the history of the commonwealth. Historical markers in Russellville and Bowling Green remind travelers of Kentucky’s two state governments.

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