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.

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