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[126]

Chapter 11: Kentucky.

The Alleghany or Appalachian mountain chain, a hundred miles broad and a thousand miles long, extending from New York to Alabama, naturally separated the country into two principal military divisions: that of the East, comprising the Atlantic Coast and the Atlantic States; that of the West, comprising the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and the whole immense territory of the Mississippi Valley. In the East, the line of hostility quickly established itself along the Potomac River, with Washington as its strategical centre; this grew partly out of the paramount necessity of defending the capital, but also largely from the fact that the line from the sea to the mountains was not more than a hundred miles long, and could therefore be occupied and observed without delay. In the West the distance from the mountains to the Mississippi River was nearly ten times as great. This alone would have retarded the definition of the military frontier; but the chief element of uncertainty and delay was furnished by the peculiar political condition of the State of Kentucky, which of itself extends the whole distance from Virginia to Missouri.

It cannot perhaps be affirmed with certainty that Governor Magoffin of Kentucky was a secession conspirator; but his own language leaves no doubt that in opinion and expectation [127] he was a disunionist. He had remonstrated against the rash and separate movements of South Carolina and the Cotton States; but since their movement was made, he looked upon it as final and irrevocable, and committed himself unqualifiedly against coercing them back to obedience. More than this, he argued that Kentucky was no longer safe in the Union, and declared she “will not and ought not to submit to the principles and policy avowed by the Republican party, but will resist, and resist to the death, if necessary.”

In this view, he recommended to the Legislature, which met in January under his call, the project of a “Sovereignty” State Convention, appropriations to purchase arms, and the immediate and active organization of the militia. None of these suggestions were, however, adopted by the Legislature, which contented itself for the present by protesting against coercion as unwise and inexpedient, and recommending a call for a national convention. While Kentucky sentiment was deeply pro-slavery, and business and commerce bound her strongly to the South, the patriotic example and teachings of Henry Clay had impressed upon her people a love and reverence for the Union higher and purer than any mere passing interest or selfish advantage.

Nevertheless, as rebellion progressed, the State became seriously agitated and divided. When Sumter fell and the President issued his call for troops, Governor Magoffin insultingly refused compliance. This action in turn greatly excited the people of the three Border Free States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, who thus beheld a not remote prospect of having civil war brought to their own doors They therefore looked immediately to the protection and control of the Ohio River. Their enthusiastic response to the President's call had filled their capitals with volunteers, which [128] were being armed and equipped by the Government. Ohio hurried off her earliest levies to Cincinnati; those of Indiana were sent to her several exposed river towns. At the extreme southern point of Illinois was the city of Cairo, small in population and commerce, but in a military point of view the commanding centre and key of the whole western river system. Its value was comprehended both east and west. No sooner had the Border Slave State Governors forwarded their disloyal refusals, than Secretary Cameron (April 19th), by telegraph requested the Governor of Illinois to send a brigade of four regiments to occupy it. There was not yet that total of militia in the whole State; but within forty-eight hours an improvised expedition, numbering five hundred and ninety-five men and four six-pounders, started from Chicago to carry out the Secretary's orders, arriving at Cairo on the morning of April 23d, where they were speedily reinforced to the required numbers.

Under the Sumter bombardment, the President's call, and Magoffin's refusal, Kentucky was, for the moment, simply in a hopeless bewilderment, irresolution, and conflict of opinion. A strong minority, arrogating to itself much more than its numerical importance through noise and selfasser-tion, labored with zeal and energy for secession, but could make no substantial progress against the overwhelming undercurrent of Union sentiment; and these opposing factions, with the ultimate hope of influencing and gaining the wavering or undecided, joined somewhat unavoidably in an endeavor to commit the State to an attitude of strict neutrality.

Governor Magoffin and his personal adherents were ready to lend their official influence to carry the State into rebellion. The Governor sent an agent to the Governors of Arkansas and Louisiana to solicit arms; and by way of justifying the act, he made a similar application to the [129] Governors of Indiana and of Missouri. No substantial success, however, attended these efforts; and the Governor's application to the banks for money also resulted, in the main, in a discouraging refusal, largely due to the dominating Union sentiment, which suspected him of treasonable designs. A second endeavor to influence the Legislature remained equally barren. That body, which had only adjourned on the 5th of April, was by proclamation once more called to meet in a second special session, beginning May 2d. The Governor's message, reciting the startling events which had occurred, stigmatized the President's defence of the Government as “extraordinary usurpations,” the enthusiastic patriotism of the loyal States as “the frenzy of fanaticism,” and asserted with dogmatic stubbornness that “the late American Union is dissolved;” recommending, as before, a State convention, military appropriations, and organization of the militia. He also sent a messenger to ask the Governors of Ohio and Indiana to join him “in an effort to bring about a truce between the General Government and the seceded States;” to which Governor Morton worthily responded, “I do not recognize the right of any State to act as mediator between the Federal Government and a rebellious State.”

The Unionists had a controlling majority in the Legislature, and, considering the deep agitation and serious divisions in Kentucky, used their power with great moderation and tact, doing as much both to aid the Government and to embarrass the conspirators as was perhaps practicable under the circumstances. To still the prevailing neutrality clamor, the House of Representatives, on May 16th, passed resolutions declaring that Kentucky “should, during the contest, occupy the position of strict neutrality,” and also approving Governor Magoffin's refusal to furnish troops. In substantial [130] legislation, however, the Governor received little aid or comfort. His most active lieutenant in contemplated treason was Simon B. Buckner, who about a year before had succeeded in obtaining the passage of a rather energetic militia law, under which the Governor appointed him Inspector-General and ranking commander in the State. It was his and the Governor's project to put into the field and manipulate the State guard which this law authorized, so as to precipitate Kentucky into rebellion.

The Legislature, ignoring the Governor's request for a State Convention, addressed itself mainly to the task of turning the influence and support of the militia system from secession to union. A bill was framed and became a law May 24th, authorizing a loan of one million to purchase arms and munitions, but associating a controlling Union Board of Commissioners with the Governor to regulate its disbursement and the distribution of arms; authorizing the formation of Home Guards for local defence; and while it provided that the arms and munitions should not be used against the United States, nor against the Confederate States, unless to protect Kentucky against invasion — it required that both officers and men of the Home Guards and State Guards should alike swear to support the Constitution of the United States and of Kentucky--the former law having required such an oath from the officers alone.

While Kentucky was thus settling down into an attitude of official neutrality, active popular undercurrents were busy in contrary directions. The more ardent secession leaders who raised companies to serve in the field, despairing of obtaining commissions, arms, and active duty from Governor Magoffin, quietly departed to obtain enlistment in the various rebel camps of the South. On the other hand, there were many unconditional Unionists in Kentucky who [131] openly scouted the policy of neutrality, and who from the first were eager that the Government should begin enlistments and gather an armed force to support the Union sentiment in the State. Colonels Guthrie and Woodruff opened a recruiting office on the Ohio side of the river, and as early as May 6th mustered two regiments into service, nominally as the First and Second Kentucky Volunteers, though in reality the men were principally from Ohio and Indiana.

Notwithstanding the contumacious refusals of the Governors of the Border Slave States, President Lincoln was not disposed to give up those States as lost. We have seen that, both in Maryland and Missouri, he authorized direct enlistments under the supervision of United States officers. Leading men having informed him of the actual state of Kentucky sentiment, he, on May 7th, specially commissioned Major Anderson, of Fort Sumter fame, to proceed to Cincinnati and muster into service all loyal volunteers who might offer themselves from Kentucky and West Virginia. Nor was he content with such merely negative encouragement. He felt a deep solicitude to retain Kentucky on the Union side. Very soon also the leading Kentuckians, who at the beginning had been most pertinacious to insist on neutrality, saw that it would be impossible for the State to maintain such an utterly absurd attitude. Mr. Lincoln, therefore, with their knowledge and consent, by the middle of May sent five thousand muskets to Kentucky in charge of Lieutenant William Nelson, and a committee of prominent Union leaders superintended their distribution to companies of loyal Kentucky volunteers which were being secretly formed in various parts of the State; and since this venture proved successful, larger shipments soon followed. As yet all this was done quietly and secretly; for an election was pending in the State, and the Unionists wished to avoid [132] the animosities which open warlike preparations would be sure to create. The elections once over, however, further disguise was thrown off, and at the beginning of July Lieutenant Nelson openly established “Camp Dick Robinson” in Central Kentucky. Into this he quickly gathered several thousand Union volunteers already previously recruited. Before Secessionists or neutral Conservatives were well aware of the fact, he had formed a self-sustaining military post affording a secure rallying-place and support to Kentucky loyalists. Governor Magoffin wrote an official letter to President Lincoln, urging the removal of this and other Union camps from the State; but the President replied that the force was composed exclusively of Kentuckians defending their own homes, and that, in accordance with the evident popular sentiment of the State, he must decline to order them away.

Under these various influences the hopes and schemes of Governor Magoffin and his conspiring secession adherents withered and failed. The State guard of Buckner languished, and the loyal Home Guards grew in numbers and effective military strength. So far it had been a contest of quiet, but very earnest political strategy, and the result was in exact conformity to the dominant popular sentiment manifested in the late elections by decisive Union majorities. Sustained by this sentiment, the effort could not well have failed; but failure was rendered impossible, and the result greatly hastened, by the constant presence of a considerable number of Northern troops at Cairo, Cincinnati, and intermediate towns on the border, ready to intervene with active and decisive force, had the necessity at any time become imminent.

Meanwhile surrounding events were rapidly maturing to force Kentucky from her neutral attitude. Not only had [133] hostilities commenced east of the Alleghanies, but active minor campaigns, closing with somewhat important battles, had taken place on each side of Kentucky. Eastward the rebels were driven out of West Virginia with disaster during July; while, to the west, a serious invasion of Missouri was checked in August by the hardy, though over-daring courage of Lyon, who threw back a combined rebel column moving from Arkansas northward, unfortunately at the costly sacrifice of his own life. Unlooked — for success at Bull Run had greatly encouraged the rebellion, but it felt the menace of growing danger in the West. Fremont had been sent to St. Louis, and, with a just pride in his former fame, the whole Northwest was eager to respond to his summons, and follow his lead in a grand and irresistible expedition down the Mississippi River in the coming autumn, which should open the Father of Waters to the Union flag and sever the territory of the Confederacy — a cherished plan of General Scott.

The rebel General Pillow-somewhat wordy, but exceedingly active, and as yet the principal military authority in Tennessee-had long been warning Jefferson Davis to prepare against such an enterprise. He had been working with great energy to fortify Memphis, and, by the middle of May, reported that he would soon have twenty pieces in battery. But at the same time he prophesied that “an effort will be made to effect a lodgment at Columbus, fortify that place, and, with a strong invading column, turn my works, attack them in reverse, crush my supporting force, capture the guns, and open the river. The northern portion of Tennessee is unfavorable, from the extent of open country.” He said he had asked Governor Magoffin for permission to fortify Columbus, adding: “If he should withhold his consent, my present impression is that I shall go forward and [134] occupy the work upon the ground of its necessity for protecting Tennessee.”

But Jefferson Davis had too great hopes of Kentucky to create enmity by forcing her neutrality, and Pillow's scheme was necessarily postponed. As the autumn approached, however, Kentucky was clearly lost to the “Confederates.” Of the members of Congress chosen at the election held June 20th, nine out of ten were loyal. At the general election held on the first Monday of August, the Unionists gained three-fourths of the members of each branch of the Legislature. Meanwhile the danger of a great Mississippi expedition from the North grew formidable. The lower Mississippi flows generally between level shores, and offers few points where the stream may be effectually obstructed by fortifications. It was, therefore, desirable to secure all that were available, and the Richmond authorities now resolved to seize and hold Columbus, notwithstanding the fact that it lay in “neutral” Kentucky.

Since July 4th the defence of the Mississippi River had been specially entrusted to General Leonidas Polk, formerly a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church, but who, since the outbreak of the rebellion, preferred to utilize his early West Point education, by laying aside his clerical functions and accepting a major-general's commission in the Confederate service. On September 5th he began moving his forces northward, violating the neutrality of Kentucky by occupying the town of Hickman, on the Mississippi, within that State. The movement did not pass unobserved; the Union commander at Cairo had, with equal vigilance, been studying the possibilities of the river system in his neighborhood. On the following day, Brigadier-General Grant proceeded, with two gunboats and an infantry force, to take possession of the town of Paducah, at the confluence of the [135] Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers with the Ohio — a movement which bore important fruit a few months later. General Polk, on his part still marching northward, reached and occupied Columbus, on the Mississippi, on September 7th. Having hastily procured the endorsement of this step from Jefferson Davis, General Polk, on the 9th, formally notified Governor Magoffin of his presence in Kentucky.

By this time also, the Unionists of the State had completed and compacted their organization and authority, and demonstrated their strength and predominance. A new military department, consisting of Kentucky and Tennessee, and named the Department of the Cumberland, was, on August 15th, created at Washington and placed under the command of General Anderson, and since September 1st that officer had made Louisville his headquarters. On the other hand, Buckner had abandoned his professed neutrality and his militia command, and formally entered the rebel service as a brigadier-general. Stationing himself just within Tennessee, south of Middle Kentucky, he was collecting the rebel members of his State guard for a hostile expedition against the homes of his former friends and neighbors. Another rebel force gathering under Zollicoffer, in East Tennessee, was watching its opportunity to advance into Kentucky through Cumberland Gap.

Under these threatening aspects Governor Magoffin communicated to the Legislature, then in session, General Polk's announcement of his arrival at Columbus. The altogether illogical and false role of Kentucky neutrality was necessarily at an end. The Legislature, by express resolutions under date of September 14th, instructed the Governor to demand the unconditional withdrawal of the rebel forces from Kentucky, while other resolutions called on General Anderson to enter at once upon the active defence of his native State. A [136] little later, Kentucky still further and finally identified herself with the loyal North. Enlistment under the Confederate flag was by law declared a misdemeanor, and the invasion of Kentucky by Confederate soldiers a felony, and heavy punishments were prescribed for both offences. And since the Home Guards had only been organized for local protection, the Legislature now formally authorized the enlistment of forty thousand volunteers to “repel invasion,” providing that they should be mustered into the service of the United States, and co-operate with the armies of the Union.

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