When news reached Lexington, Kentucky of the attack on Fort Sumter
by Confederate forces in South Carolina, which heralded the start
of the Civil War, "Lexington and the Bluegrass region, like the
rest of Kentucky, was strongly divided," wrote J. Winston Coleman
in Lexington During the Civil War. However, on the week after
the fall of Fort Sumter, an armed body of men bearing the Confederate
flag passed through the streets of Lexington, heading south to swell
the Confederate army, amidst cheers for Confederate President Jefferson
Davis. By May 1861, Lexington Unionist David A. Sayer, an aged banker,
began receiving shipments of rifles and revolvers and distributing
them in secret to his pro-Union friends, using his bank at Mill
and Short Streets as a base. By this point, Lexington, along with
the rest of Kentucky, had formed state guard companies to keep the
state neutral. Indeed, the situation in Kentucky was so important
to both the Confederacy and the Union that in September 1861, Kentucky-born
President Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I think to lose Kentucky is nearly
the same as to lose the whole game."
The "Raid on the L & N,"
painting by Civil War artist John Paul Strain depicting Confederate
Captain John Hunt Morgan's winter raid of 1861-2, when Morgan
lead his men behind Union lines. John Paul Strain depicts
Morgan targeting the vital Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
Courtesy of John Paul Strain and American Print Gallery
JOHN PAUL STRAIN TM - Copyrightę2001 www.johnpaulstrain.com
Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, Kentucky was tightly bound
to both regions. Although river trade, slavery, and a love of
states' rights tied the Commonwealth to the South, a newly established
railroad commerce and a historical devotion to the Union aligned
many Kentuckians with the North. Through statesmen like Henry
Clay, Kentucky had worn the mantle of compromise in settling conflicts
between these two regions. In the crucial presidential election
of 1860, two of the four candidates were Kentuckians. John C.
Breckinridge, a Lexington native and former vice president, ran
on the Southern Democrat ticket. Abraham Lincoln, the Republican
candidate, was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Kentuckians voted
for Tennesseean John Bell in the crucial 1860 Presidential election,
whose Constitutional Union platform was based on the preservation
of the Union. However, the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln
in 1860 caused South Carolina to secede from the Union on December
20, 1860. Lincoln's Republican Party was known for its stand on
halting slavery in the U.S. territories, which was anathema to
many Southerners. By February 1, 1861, the remaining six states
of the deep South-Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,
and Texas-followed South Carolina, forming the Confederate States
On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops bombarded Fort Sumter, a Union
position off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. With the fall
of Fort Sumter President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to suppress
the rebellion. More southern states, such as Virginia, Arkansas,
Tennessee and North Carolina, joined the Confederacy. Kentucky Governor
Magoffin refused Lincoln's call for troops, stating, "Kentucky will
furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister
Southern States." The next day, however, Magoffin had to turn down
a similar request for troops from Confederate President Jefferson
Davis (also born in the Bluegrass State). On August 5, 1861, state
elections ended the policy of Kentucky's neutrality. As Southerners
boycotted the election, Unionist candidates won a sweeping victory.
Camp Nelson, after March,1864,
became Kentucky's largest recruitment and training center
for African American troops. In all, 23,703 Kentucky African
Americans served in the Union Army, the second greatest
number of black soldiers from any state.
Photograph from the
National Register collection, Courtesy of the National Archives
On August 21, 1861, a detachment of 200 Federal cavalry arrived
in Lexington. This caused alarm, as units of the Lexington home
guard lined up behind an old brass cannon to face the Union troops,
but through negotiations the Union soldiers were permitted to
depart Lexington for their camp thirty miles from the city. Responding
to Union troops arriving on Kentucky soil, Confederate General
Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus, Kentucky, on September 4, 1861.
On September 19, 1500 Union troops marched into Lexington and
pitched their tents on what was then the old fair grounds. Orders
were soon given to disarm the state guard companies. On the night
of September 20, Lexington's most famous Confederate, Captain
(later Brigadier General) John Morgan, moved some guardsmen with
weapons out of the city. Morgan himself left Lexington the following
evening with fifteen or twenty followers, to join the Confederate
rendezvous on Green River. The Lexington men who joined the Confederacy
formed Company B of the Second Kentucky Infantry, and were originally
based at Camp Boone, in Montgomery County, Tennessee.
By late September 1861, Northern troops under Ulysses S. Grant seized
Paducah and Smithland, Kentucky. On September 18, Confederate forces
under General Albert Sidney Johnston occupied Bowling Green and
fortified the town. Johnston quickly established a defensive line
that spanned the southern portion of the state. Lexington by this
point was a Union garrisoned city, and the Fourteenth Ohio arrived
to reinforce the city, the first out of state forces to do so. In
October, Lt. Rittenhouse of the First U.S. Artillery opened a recruiting
office for the Union forces in Lexington. The Masonic Hall on Walnut
and Short Streets, which was demolished in 1891, later took on this
function, after serving as a hospital and prison during the Civil
Lexington's Confederate Brigadier
General and guerrilla raider John Hunt Morgan was born in
Alabama, but was long a resident of Lexington, Kentucky.
The northern press referred to him as a freebooter, but
in the South he was known as "the Thunderbolt of the
Photo courtesy Farmcourt Publishing www.LongestRaid.com
Confederates held meetings in Russellville in late October and
mid-November and established a provisional Kentucky state government
that was admitted into the Confederate States of America on December
10,1861. Its capital was Bowling Green, but this government withdrew
with the Confederate army in mid-February 1862 and, despite a
brief return the same year, spent most of the Civil War in exile.
In early 1862, Union victories at Mill Springs combined with the
Confederate losses of Fort Henry and Donelson to (then) Brigadier
General Ulysses S. Grant's Federal armies caused General Johnston
to abandon the state for Tennessee. The Confederates, however,
would soon return.
In mid-August of 1862, the Confederates launched a two-pronged offensive
into the border states of Maryland and Kentucky. Leaving Knoxville
on August 14, Confederate Major General Edmund Kirby Smith bypassed
to the west of the Union-held Cumberland Gap and thrust deep into
eastern Kentucky. On August 30, Smith almost annihilated a Union
force of 6,500 near Richmond, Kentucky, despite an attempt to stem
the battle tide by Federal commander Maj. General William Nelson,
who arrived at 2 p.m. from Lexington. However, the Confederates
won, and August 30 proved a bleak day for the Lincoln administration;
coupled with the Richmond disaster was the Union defeat at Second
Manassas in Virginia. Lexington prepared for Confederate occupation,
and the Union soldiers destroyed government stores and ammunition
before retreating. When Smith's 11,000 Confederates entered Lexington
on September 2, 1862, they were cheered, and Smith wired the Confederate
high command in Richmond; "They have proven to us that the heart
of Kentucky is with the South in this struggle."
The Mary Todd Lincoln House, in
Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky was the birthplace of Abraham
Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln.
of Eric Thomason, Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation,
The Battle of Perryville, fought between Confederate General
Braxton Bragg and Union General Don Carlos Buell on October 8,
1862, was a tactical victory for the Confederates, but also a
strategic defeat. This battle, which was the largest Civil War
engagement in the Commonwealth, killed and wounded over 7,500
troops. Although the Southerners whipped the Federal left, Bragg
was forced to withdraw his outnumbered army from the state, ending
his invasion and dashing the hopes of a Confederate Kentucky.
The Confederates left Lexington on October 8, and by October 16,
the Union forces returned. Ashland, the
home of Henry Clay, was occupied by Union Major Charles B. Seidel,
but on October 18 John Morgan and his cavalry surprised Major
Seidel at Ashland and captured him and his command in broad daylight.
After outfitting his command with new horses, colt revolvers and
other captured goods, Morgan's men burned the government stables
and railroad depot before leaving Lexington.
By the winter of 1862-3 refugees from East Tennessee, which was
largely sympathetic to the Union, and escaped African-American slaves,
began arriving in Lexington. Soon, a large African-American recruitment
ground, located south of Nicholasville in Jessamine County, called
Nelson, began recruitment in March 1864. Eight African American
regiments, called the United States Colored Troops, were founded
at Camp Nelson and three other regiments trained there. Kentucky
slaves who enlisted in the Union cause were immediately freed. The
13th Amendment finally freed all of Kentucky's slaves in December
1865. African Americans comprised 12 percent of the Union army by
the end of the Civil War, and had engaged in 41 major battles and
449 smaller operations.
Ashland, the home of the "Great
Compromiser"Henry Clay, witnessed the capture of Union
Major Seidel and his command by Confederate John Hunt Morgan
and his men on October 18, 1862
Courtesy of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation
On June 8, 1864, Morgan returned to Lexington for the final
time during the Civil War. With 2,700 men Morgan left Virginia
on May 30 and rode into Kentucky. Morgan struck Mount Sterling
on June 8 and captured a garrison, then headed for Lexington,
to procure Federal supplies for some of his command who lacked
mounts. Hundreds of cords of wood at the Kentucky Central Railroad
building near the Lunatic Asylum were set on fire, and, as Coleman
records in Lexington During the Civil War, one Confederate
soldier recalled "though we had but four buildings burning they
were nigh circled half the town and the illumination suggested
the appearance of a general conflagration." According to Coleman,
Reverend Pratt, a native of Lexington, wrote in his diary, "It
looked frightful and we feared the town would be set on fire.
The federal forces retired to Fort Clay and commenced throwing
shells over the town. It was frightful to see those missiles of
death whizzing over our heads."
Morgan's men, tired and hungry, looted Lexington. Coleman also quotes
a contemporary account from The Observer and Reporter, a
local newspaper, which stated that the raiders "proceeded to help
themselves to whatever they wanted, and did so unstintingly. They
broke open nearly all the clothing and hat stores in town together
with Mr. Spencer's sadderly establishment from which they took everything
they desired." Although Morgan and his men left town after a few
hours, Mr. John Clay lost about $25,000.00 worth of fine horses
to Morgan, and Morgan's men also took $3,000.00 in gold and over
$10,000.00 from the Branch Bank of Kentucky. Morgan rode north to
Cynthiana, and in two days of fighting he captured Union Brig. Gen.
Edward Hobson's command but was soundly defeated by Union General
Stephen G. Burbridge. Morgan barely escaped with a handful of troopers
back into Virginia. However, Morgan's luck, which had been phenomenal,
would not last. John H. Morgan was killed in battle on September
3, 1864, near Greeneville, Tennessee, when he and his men were surprised
by body of Union cavalry under General Alvin C. Gilem. Given a state
funeral in Richmond, Virginia, he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery
and then reinterred with honor in 1868 in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Hunt-Morgan Home was the home
of the famous Confederate raider, Brigadier General John
Hunt Morgan (1825-1864)
Courtesy of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation,
Lexington, Kentucky, photo by Dave Huntsman
After Morgan's last raid, the Civil War in Lexington was over.
Nationally, the Civil War began to draw to a close with the surrender
of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia
at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1965. During the conflict,
over 75,000 Kentuckians fought with the Federal army, while approximately
25,000 of their fellow Kentuckians enlisted in the Confederacy.
Over 20,000 of the Union soldiers from Kentucky were African-American.
Of those 100,000 Kentuckians who served, nearly 30,000 died. At
least 10,000 were killed in battle, while the remaining 20,000
fell victim to disease and exposure.
Lexington bore the conflict with mixed loyalties. The town was occupied
by both sides, and the memory of the conflict was not soon forgotten.
The Bodley-Bullock House, at 200 Market Street,
was at different times the headquarters for both Union and Confederate
forces during the occupation of the city. The congregations of most
of the Protestant churches split over their loyalties; the Christ
Church Episcopal at 166 Market Street, under the authority of
Reverend Jacob Shaw Shipman, was a rare example of a congregation
that maintained its unity during the conflict. In Lexington, the
Lexington Cemetery at 833 West Main Street
provides a self-guided tour for the historic portion of the cemetery.
There are at least seven Civil War Generals buried in the cemetery,
which also includes the graves of numerous soldiers from both sides.
The Hunt-Morgan House, at 201 North Mill Street,
is a house museum, which includes period furnishings and a second-floor
Civil War museum. This was the home of Confederate Brigadier General
John Hunt Morgan. The Mary Todd Lincoln House
at 578 West Main Street in Lexington contains articles from both
the Todd and Lincoln families. Finally, Kentucky's tradition of
meditating between the South and North owes much to U.S Senator,
Speaker of the House, Secretary of State and presidential candidate
Henry Clay, who lived at Ashland, on 120 Sycamore
Road, Lexington. Although Clay died in 1852, he was the chief author
of the Compromise of 1850, which helped hold the Union together
in the decade prior to the Civil War.
Gatehouse and office of Lexington
Cemetery, where 7 Civil War Generals are buried.
Courtesy of Eric Thomason, Blue Grass Trust for Historic
Parts of this article were taken verbatim from
the pamphlet "Kentucky's Civil War Heritage Trail," published
by the Kentucky Department of Travel, Capital Plaza Tower, 500
Metro St. #22, Frankfurt, KY 40601-1968. Lexington During the
Civil War by J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Commercial Printing
Co.; Lexington, Kentucky,1938 also provided much information.
Information was also taken from The Smithsonian's Great Battles
and Battlefields of the Civil War by Jay Wertz and Edwin C.
Bearss, William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, 1997; the
Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Richard N. Current, Editor
in Chief, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993(especially the articles
on "John Hunt Morgan" by James A. Ramage and "Kentucky"
by Lowel H. Harrison), the Encyclopedia of the American Civil
War a Political, Social, and Military History, Volume III and
Volume 1V, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, editors,
Santa Barbara, California, 2000, especially
of note Gregory J.W. Urwin's piece on "United States Colored
Troops" in Volume IV, from which the number of battles African
American troops participated in and the percentage of the Union
army comprised of African American troops.