Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shaker Colony at South Union

In the early 1800's, new Shaker colonies were established in Kentucky and Indiana.  The southernmost of these was near the Kentucky-Tennessee border in South Union, Logan County, Kentucky.  Original documents from this colony are stored on microfilm at the Western Kentucky University Library and include a detailed record of the hardships endured by their members during the Civil War.

As mentioned in an earlier post, this colony became a temporary home to Confederate troops from the fall of 1861 until their departure in January 1862.  It then became a major encampment for the Union forces of the District of Western Kentucky, closely associated with the camps along the L&N railroad at Russellville.

The best description of their ordeal may be found in the Shaker Journal 1805-1891 which is currently held at the Western Kentucky University Library.  Especially interesting is their "Letter to President Lincoln from the Shakers".  The excerpt printed below describes their obligatory contributions to both the Union and Confederate troops as a prelude to their appeal for Conscientious Objector Status.

To the Honorable Abraham Lincoln 
President of the United States of America,

Kind Friend Strike, but hear,

The armies of the South like a great prairie fire swept over this part of Kentucky in the fall and winter of 1861.  Licking up the substance of land, we were humbled before it's power and for many months remained the quiet subjects of the Confederate Government, obeying all request save one, which nobly and generously they permitted us to disregard, and that was to take up arms on their behalf. They encamped for days as many as a thousand at a time in our lots and occupied our buildings.  We chopped and hauled wood for their campfires and slaughtered our animals for their commissariat, and at all hours of the night were compelled to furnish diets for hundreds at a time.  They pressed all our wagons and horses of value for army purposes; but for these they paid us a moderate price in Confederate Script.  

                              *  *  *

Your armies have visited us from the small squad of 5 to 6,000 at a time.  Our barns were cheerfully relieved of their contents.  Our fences torn into campfires.  For those we have been paid by you, but gratuitously, have we furnished diets for thousands of your men.  Of this we complain not.  To our uniform kindness (if we must say it) all your armies that have passed us, all your hospitals within our reach, all your past surgeons and commanders can be witness.

When John Morgan destroyed that bridge at Franklin and cut off our supplies your officers pressed our sugar for the hospital purposes.  Our cellars disgorged themselves of nearly a thousand dollars worth, for which so far an account of informality we have given in vain to obtain one cent repayment.

We state these things now, not by way of complaint, but mainly as grounds(coming to your knowledge) on which we may rest a hope that we may be treated on the sensitive point with as much dignity and as much justice as we were by the rebels whilst we were subjects of their government.  Is it impossible that our friends can be as tolerant, as just and generous as their enemies?  Must our prayers now be reserved and shall we now pray to the Lord to be delivered from our friends?*

To be continued...

* from an unpublished manuscript found in the Logan County Public Library, Civil War files, credited to Barry Kennedy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Illegal Order

As if Lincoln's threat of emancipation in the Confederate States wasn't enough, the Commander-in-Chief further complicated the turmoil in McHenry's regiment by the issuance of a standing order to the effect that any fugitive slave should be granted refuge and the protection of the United States government if they arrived at a Union encampment.  

This order presented a legal and ethical conflict to Colonel McHenry as it was received while he was serving in Kentucky, where slaves were still considered the rightful property of their owners.  How could he respect the rights of property owners who had remained loyal to the Constitution, as was their policy even in occupied Tennessee, and yet give refuge to runaway slaves? He was forced to choose between following the laws of his state or the order from his Commander-in-Chief.  His legal training suggested that Lincoln's order was unlawful as it violated state law and was not supported by any Federal law or Supreme Court decision.  

The order also presented a practical problem, since the troops that were being ordered to provide refuge to runaway slaves were the same troops that had been ordered by the War Department to live off the land.  Remember the brilliant maxim that the movement of the army was hindered by an abundance of transportation? They obviously could not send the runaways out into the Kentucky countryside to forage for food and the soldiers could not even  find enough supplies to sustain themselves and their animals.  Additionally, when the army did provide rations of food and clothing, their issue was based on the number of soldiers in the regiment-  the refugees were not included. 

As the number of  runaways in the camp grew, providing for their care became an increasing strain on regimental supplies until finally, the colonel felt compelled to issue the following order.

Headquarters, 17th Regiment, Ky. Vols
In the Field, Near Mew Market, Kentucky
October 27, 1862


   No fugitive slave will hereafter be allowed in this regiment, and all officers and soldiers are forbidden from employing any other than slaves or Negroes known to be free.
   All fugitive slaves are hereby ordered to leave this regiment in two weeks from this date.
   All fugitive slaves within the limits of this regiment will be delivered to his owner or agent appointed, upon application whether the owner be loyal or rebel.

By command of John H. McHenry, Jr. 

Col., 17th Inf.

Geo. W. Gist, 

1st Lt., Adjutant*

* Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles - A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972,  LOC 72-93774, pp. 106-107.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Threat of Emancipation

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln threatened to order the emancipation of all slaves within the boundaries of any Confederate state that did not return to the Union by January 1863. This proposition is not as simple as it seems at first glance, which may explain why none of the rebellious states took this opportunity to revoke their secession.

First, Mr. Lincoln might have hoped that the Confederates would conclude that if they rejoined the Union, their slaves would not be emancipated.  As any student of logic can tell you, this argument falls under the informal fallacy of denying the antecedent. The consequences of returning to the Union were not specified in this prelude to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Second, and most important to our story, this threat was addressed only to the states that had seceded.  It had no affect on the four slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri) that remained loyal.  The ownership of slaves in these states remained at the discretion of their respective legislatures.

The news of this proclamation filtered through the Union encampments across the eastern and western theaters.  It reached the camp of Col. John McHenry, Jr. and the Seventeenth Kentucky fairly quickly as they were assembled at Louisville, posed to drive Bragg's Army of Mississippi out of Kentucky and back into the Confederate State of Tennessee.

Would the loyal Kentucky volunteers view this offer with optimism, hoping that at least some of their neighbors might rejoin the Union?  They had been on their tour of the south since February and had more than enough first hand experience with the resoluteness of the southern soldiers and citizens to entertain this possibility.

Would the road-weary foot soldiers associate this threat with the likelihood of another march through Dixie to begin after Christmas?  Even the simplest-minded farm boy could see that this "Tour of Emancipation" was what Lincoln had planned.  The same farm boy, remembering that they had confiscated the property of rebels (including slaves) on their last tour and put said property to work rebuilding roads and bridges, might wonder at the significance of this new policy.

The more astute of these volunteers, however, would see this threat for what it was- the first official linkage between the war and abolition.  To men like Col. McHenry, this was a significant change in policy.  He and most of his men were strongly anti-secessionists, and equally strong in their anti-abolitionist beliefs.  They were only marginally consoled by the fact that the issue of slavery in their home state was not being challenged, for the moment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Russellville Campsites

The town of Russellville remained in Confederate hands under the command of General Simon Buckner until nearby Forts Henry and Donelson became threatened by Union forces under the command of Buckner's old friend, Ulysses S.Grant. The Confederates' first invasion of Kentucky thus ended in January of 1862 as the troops were consolidated to defend these two strongholds on the lower Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and the Tennessee capitol of Nashville.  Fort Henry surrendered almost without protest so Buckner's troops proceeded through Clarksville to defend Fort Donelson at Dover, TN  (about 75 miles sw).  Buckner, as the junior officer, was ordered to surrender the fort as his senior officers escaped under the cover of darkness on February 16th, 1862. The Confederate State of Kentucky became a government-in-exile and attached itself to the Army of Tennessee as the Confederate forces at Bowling Green rushed to defend Nashville.  After the subsequent fall of Nashville, the government of the Confederate State of Tennessee would suffer a similar fate, after first briefly relocating to Memphis.

Confederate camps established  along the L&N Railroad just north of the court square as well as the more accommodating one located at a Shaker colony near South Union would become the Logan County  home of Union troops throughout the remainder of the war.  The county once occupied by John Hunt Morgan  (General,CSA) came to be under the command of Sanders D. Bruce (Colonel, USA), the brother of Morgan's wife, Rebecca.  It was into this complicated but predominantly southern cultural environment that the Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry marched, that first week of November in 1862.

The Southern Bank of Kentucky (1857) located in Russellville was one of the strongest banks in the area, conducting business throughout the South. After turning down a loan request by the Confederate government, the owner removed from it's vault gold reserves of more than $2,000,000.00 and hid them to guard against less formal requests that might follow.        Photo by the author, all rights reserved.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Russellville Convention

The border states of Tennessee and Kentucky were, in today's parlance, the key swing states that would determine the course of the war west of the Appalachians and Logan County Kentucky was situated in the middle of the border between these two border states.  The Tennessee Legislature voted to join the Confederacy by a slim margin (overturning an initial vote to remain in the Union) only after Lincoln's call for troops to retake Fort Sumter in June of 1861. The Commonwealth of Kentucky  which had decided against secession in February 1861 used this demand for troops to declare their neutrality.

In October of 1861, however, two coordinated incursions into neutral Kentucky were conducted by former Kentucky citizens who had joined the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The first incursion into Bowling Green led by General Leonidas Polk of Tennessee was supported by Kentuckians like Simon Bolivar Buckner who had left home to fight for the South and it was welcomed by many of those who had remained behind.  The second, led by General John Hunt Morgan had targeted the small crossroads town of Russellville in Logan County, which also had strong Confederate sympathies as well as good connecting roads from Nashville and Clarksville, Tennessee to Hopkinsville, Owensboro and Bowling Green Kentucky.  An added bonus was it's strategic location on the Louisville & Nashville railroad line.

With their sovereignty threatened by these incursions, loyal volunteer regiments like the Seventeenth and Twenty-fifth Kentucky Infantries began forming across the state in the fall of 1861, while many pro-secessionists fled to the newly established strongholds of Russellville and Bowling Green to join the Confederate Army. The prospect of remaining neutral was becoming less likely and the state whose official seal features a businessman and frontiersman clasping hands surrounded by the motto "United we stand, divided we fall" was about to become the most conflicted participant in the conflict.

Seizing upon this opportunity, a convention was called by Kentucky's pro-secessionists at Russellville in November 1861 for the purpose of creating the Confederate State of Kentucky, with it's capitol being established at Bowling Green.  The constitution for this state was written and adopted at the Russellville Convention and on December 10, 1861 the Confederate State of Kentucky was admitted to the rebellious confederation and honored by the addition of the 13th and central star on the Confederate flag.  Thus the Confederate government gained the rights of conscripting men and commandeering private property in Kentucky to support their fight for a state's right to secede from the Union.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Guard and Rest at Russellville

The month of November proved to be an eventful one for the Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.  After pursuing Bragg from Nashville to Louisville and, after the Battle of Perryville as far as Livingston, KY, they were ordered to Bowling Green with an anticipated arrival date of October 31, as reported in earlier posts.  After this trek of nearly 600 miles, they were ordered to march from Bowling Green to Russellville, Kentucky for "Guard and Rest", still assigned to the District of Western Kentucky, Department of Ohio.  Thankfully this was merely another 30 miles along the Russellville Road (now State Route 80 / US 68).

The posts for this time from early November until late December will break from the "150 Years Ago Today" format because sufficient daily information is not available. Instead, two story lines relevant to these weeks on duty so close to home will be intertwined.  The first, "Why Russellville" will explore the significance of this small but historic seat of government for Logan County.  The second storyline, "Illegal Orders" will follow the conflict faced by Col. John McHenry as the former lawyer, whose father served in the state legislature, chose between following the laws of his state which he was fighting to protect and obeying an order from his Commander-in-Chief whom he had sworn to serve.  Col. McHenry's decision culminated in his dismissal from the service while stationed at Russellville, a controversial decision that gave President Lincoln cause to reconsider but not so for Secretary Stanton.