Chapter 1:

  • The ‘dark and bloody ground’
  • -- Origin of the name -- battle ground of Northern and Southern Indians -- Recurrence of conditions in the civil war -- return of peace -- Importance of a correct history of the South in the war, especially as to Kentucky -- misconception and Misrepresentation -- the principles involved in the struggle -- Mr. Jefferson's views -- attitude of other Statesmen North and South -- State Rights and nullification in the North -- blood not shed in vain -- the Republic more Stable by reason of the South's protest in arms.

At the treaty at Watauga, Tenn., in March, 1775, when the Cherokees sold to the Henderson company for ten thousand pounds sterling the greater part of the territory embracing the present State of Kentucky, the chief, Dragging Canoe, said there was a dark cloud over that country. Another version is that he said it was ‘a dark and bloody ground.’ The whites, inquiring the meaning of his reference to a cloud, and fearing it implied an imperfect title, were assured with a stately wave of the hand by the stem chieftain that their title was unquestioned, but that he feared when the purchasers went to take possession the Indians of the north who frequented the land as a hunting ground would shed their blood and resist their occupancy.

Three days after the conclusion of the treaty, the purchasers, preceded by Daniel Boone with a small party, started for their newly acquired possessions, and within ten days the first blood was spilled in verification of the chief's ominous warning. The Indians of the north met [4] them almost at the very threshold, thus inaugurating a bloody war which lasted for twenty years, and gave to the State, which near its close had become a member of the Union, the sobriquet of ‘the dark and bloody ground.’ Kentucky holds this title after the lapse of more than a century of statehood. Tradition reaching back beyond Watauga had represented it as an untenanted expanse of forest and grassy plains in which the Indians of the north and south periodically hunted the buffalo, deer and other game, and across which were beaten war paths by which they were wont to make predatory excursions into the territory each of the other.

The aborigines yielded before the march of civilization. The axe of the pioneer felled the forest, and before a century had passed since Boone blazed away for the Transylvania company more than a million souls were dwelling in peace and happiness in the fair land whose natural beauties had been heightened by the skill of the husbandman and the embellishments of modem civilization. For a long season, interrupted only by the call to arms in the national defense, the dark cloud of the Indian legend seemed dispelled and the war path between the North and South obliterated forever. But the fancied security was illusory. In the very sunshine of a peaceful day the cloud suddenly loomed up on the horizon, and spreading with a blinding gloom, enveloped every home with its pall. Kentucky again became in very deed ‘the dark and bloody ground.’ The war-path was reestab-lished and legions from the North and from the South threaded the ways which Boone had trod, and crimsoned her soil with their blood. The tragedy was heightened by the fate which arrayed father against son, and brother against brother. There was scacre a home across which the shadow of death did not fall.

A third of a century has passed since this deluge of blood swept the State. Peace has smoothed the wrinkled brow of war. The passions of strife have cooled into the [5] calm reflection of a philosophic retrospect The discussions born of war have ceased, and the wounds of strife have so far healed as to admit of dispassionate review of the stirring events of that period. A new generation risen since the treaty of peace was written with the sword at Appomattox, has nearly displaced the actors in the great tragedy of the Confederate struggle, and they and the children of those who bared their bosoms to the storm, are eager to learn something more of the causes of this terrible war and of the heroism it evoked than they can find in the distorted publications of the press or the fireside narratives of its survivors.

The history of the great struggle which for four long years shook the continent and made the world stand aghast, has yet to be written. The personal observations of many hundreds of its participants have been printed, and many of the civil and military leaders have prepared volumes of more or less merit; and for many years yet to come these and others to follow will but form the material from the great mass of which, together with the official military records of both sides published by the government, the real history of our civil war will be written. When the actors shall all have passed away, and when to the narratives of actual participants shall succeed the periods of romance and the drama; when all traces of the war shall have disappeared save the imperishable monuments which will attest the valor of victor and vanquished alike; and when the two sections shall be as thoroughly welded into one as the houses of York and Lancaster after years of blood or those of the Stuarts and Hanover—some great mind like that of Gibbon or Macaulay will dispassionately, with the clear perspective of time, collate all this heterogeneous mass of material and give to the world the unbiased truth. The South can well await the verdict of prosperity when the evidence thus sifted of prejudice and free from distortions of error or malice shall be philosophically woven [6] into a narrative where only truth shall have a lodgment. Meantime as the era of the living actors is fast coming to a close, it behooves every one who can contribute, either from his own observation and experience or a careful study of the record, to the accumulation of such material for the use of such an historian and the instruction of the present and coming generations, to put his offering in tangible shape ere it be too late; for ‘the night cometh when no man can work.’

While, therefore, it is a sacred duty both to the living and the dead for all who love truth for its own sake to aid in making up this record upon which posterity must pass, especially is it the duty of the people of the South to marshal the evidence upon which will rest their title to the future respect of the world. It naturally follows that the victor in a civil war has more ample material for history than the defeated side. Its record makes itself, its archives are intact, its muster rolls carefully preserved in State and Federal capitals, while pride and individual ambition secure the preservation of every incident of real or alleged valor which can be claimed as contributing to the result. On the other hand, the defeated in such a struggle, while as jealous of their good name, even in disaster, too often lack the power of preserving their records. Official papers become part of the spoils of war. Fire and pillage, added to authorized deportation, deprive them of the most valuable material, leaving in many instances the personal testimony of actual participants as the only adjunct to the scanty record rescued from a common destruction. In the present instance, the South was, after the war, paralyzed by the mal-administration imposed upon the people and, for many years, more concerned as to whether it would have a future than with the preparation of its past history. But now, after having won additional title to the admiration of the world by her heroic struggles toward rehabilitation in peace, and having secured as the result of labor [7] and self-denial a fair measure of thrift, and a restoration to full civil equality, the work of marking the graves of her dead with fitting monuments and collecting into permanent form the record of the deeds of her sons begins to assume a practical phase.

While the duty is enjoined upon the States of the South proper whose autonomy has been preserved as actual members of the Confederacy, it is even more incumbent upon Kentuckians who survive to see that justice is done in history to their comrades, dead and living, who left their homes and all that makes life sweet to obey the dictates of conscience and vindicate their principles as God gave them to see their way. They exchanged luxury for want, the certain rank which awaited most of them for private station, home for exile, peace for war, and life for death itself, rather than turn their weapons against a kindred people struggling to maintain their convictions of right. The war has settled adversely to their views many questions; but while the superficial or ignorant may talk of the enormity of the treason which their advocacy implied, the enlightened student knows that in the first place no court has ever pronounced participation in the late war treason; and in the second, that if treason could be committed without an overt act, secession as a remedy for wrongs committed by the general government against the reserved rights of the States was, before the war, regarded by no means as such a monstrous doctrine as the resort to arms against it has made it. The very essence of the platform upon which Thomas Jefferson was elected, which he inspired, if he did not write, and which was introduced in and passed by the general assembly of Kentucky in 1798, had this initial resolution: ‘Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government, but that by compact under the style and title of the Constitution of the United States and by [8] amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes, delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving each State for itself the residuary mass of right to their own self-government, and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers its acts are unauthoritative, void and of no force; that to this compact each State acceded as a State and is an integral party; that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the power delegated to itself, since that would have made discretion and not the Constitution the measure of its powers; but that as in all cases of compact among parties having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.’

For more than fifty years, up to the brink of the war, this resolution was reaffirmed by State legislatures and party conventions as containing the true theory of our government. It had been put forth by men who had taken a leading part in the war of the Revolution and the formation of the Federal Constitution, as embodying the principles upon which separation from Great Britain had taken place and the federative system of government had been founded. But it had a still further significance and object. Within a decade after the formation of the union of the States, dangerous heresies had gained a foothold, and a monarchical element, assuming the theory of a consolidated government, had passed acts such as the alien and sedition laws, and in many ways transcended the limits of the Constitution. By a silent, yet steady and peaceful revolution, our form of government was undergoing a radical change when Mr. Jefferson sounded the note of alarm and, upon the platform of the resolutions of 1798, overthrew the Federal party in 1800 and, in contradistinction to its contention for a strong central government with powers other than those specially delegated to it by the States, established [9] upon a firm basis the opposite and Democratic theory of our government which was maintained for more than half a century. No one dreamed that such principles were treasonable. Mr. Madison, who had been one of the most prominent in framing the Constitution, had used this language, ‘The States being parties to the compact and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal above their authority to decide in the last resort whether the compact made by them be violated, and consequently that, as parties to it, they must decide in the last resort such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interpretation.’ Chief Justice Marshall, who was a Federalist and neither personally nor politically in sympathy with Mr. Jefferson, in rendering a judicial decision in an important case said: ‘In America the powers of sovereignty are divided between the government of the Union and those of the States. They are each sovereign with respect to the objects committed to the other. If it be true that the Constitution and laws of the land made in pursuance thereof are the supreme law of the land, it is equally true that laws of the United States made not in pursuance thereof cannot be the supreme law of the land.’ As long as these principles were observed in the administration of the government there was peace. It was not the South alone which maintained them as embodying the correct theory of the Constitution. Other States, both before and after the compact, had contended for them as the conditions under which the Union was formed or was possible. New York, among others, in ratifying the Constitution declared that the powers delegated by her could be resumed whenever perverted to her injury or oppression, and that every power not granted remained with her. Not only was this so, but Massachusetts was the very first to assert her sovereign rights, to the very verge of active hostility to the Federal government and affiliation with Great Britain in the war of 1812. [10] The Federal laws were nullified by governor and legislature and in 1814, at the darkest period of the war, the legislature declared that ‘it was as much the duty of the State authorities to watch over the rights reserved, as of the United States to exercise the powers which are delegated, and that States which have no common umpire must be their own judges and execute their own decisions.’ A mere reference to the Hartford Convention is sufficient to indicate the extent to which these sentiments prevailed in New England.

As time progressed and the profits of the slave trade fell off, and when the Northern slave States had sold their human chattels to the Southern planters, a twofold system of oppression began, the successful execution of which required a relinquishment of such constitutional views and a revival of the Federalism which Mr. Jefferson had overthrown. The protective tariff system was devised as a special process by which one section of the country would build itself up at the expense of the other and grow wealthy under an unequal form of taxation but little short of legalized robbery. The South protested and pleaded against this discrimination, but except in one instance, in the case of South Carolina in 1832, there was never action other than in the form of legislative or party protest, and no overt act of war. The other form of hostility and unconstitutional action on the part of the Northern States against the South was in the nullification of the express provisions of the Constitution of the United States which recognized slavery in three articles and required slaves to be delivered up to their owners when they should escape into another State. This assertion of the ‘higher law’ first took the form of fanatical agitation, and was condemned by such men as Edward Everett, who, in addition to the obligation which the Constitution enjoined, held that ‘the great relation of servitude in some form or other, with greater or less departure from the theoretic equality of men, is inseparable [11] from our nation. Domestic slavery is not, in my judgment, to be set down as an immoral and irreligious relation. It is a condition of life as well as any other, to be justified by morality, religion and international law.’ The present generation, after having been drilled into the belief that the late war was a righteous measure to extirpate the horrid crime of slavery, will, as generations yet to come, find it difficult to understand how such a transition of public sentiment could occur in so short a time—from the embodiment of the most cultured and humane thought on the subject as cited above, to the fanaticism which in a few short years has made a saint of John Brown and declared the author of the emancipation proclamation an inspired man. The crusade once begun, grew rapidly from one of mere fanatical zeal and the agitation by voluntary associations and religious organizations, to the deliberate action of State legislatures, fifteen of which nullified the Constitutional provision and the laws passed to enforce the same, by imposing severe penalties upon those who sought to execute the fugitive slave law. In short, it grew from a small germ of sentiment without regard to law to a cruel attempt to incite servile war in Virginia, and finally to a great revolution which brushed aside law, constitutions, and American brotherhood, until a million men were in arms invading the homes and shedding the blood of a people who thought, as all early publicists and the most enlightened later ones maintained, that they were protected against such infraction of right by the very terms of the compact under which they lived. The action of the Southern States, looking to the protection of their constitutional rights from such a tidal wave of fanaticism by the peaceful expedient of withdrawing from the Union and resuming the sovereignty they had surrendered to the Federal government upon well-defined conditions, will not appear so illogical or revolutionary when it is reflected that the tenor of public opinion, as well as judicial [12] decision, was not adverse to belief in such a remedy. They proposed no war upon the government at Washington, nor upon any individual States, and no one had, until after their initial action, claimed that the right of coercion existed as a means of keeping them in the Union. The whole trend of sentiment in the North as well as the South, while many deprecated the wisdom or necessity of the movement, was that it was a question for them to decide as an exercise of a reserved right. In the North this expression, both as to the broad principle laid down by Mr. Jefferson as heretofore recited, and as to their right to decide for themselves, was clear and without ambiguity.

In 1859, at a convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in which Joshua R. Giddings, Senator B. F. Wade, Governor S. P. Chase and ex-Governor Dennison participated, resolutions were adopted using the language and reaffirming the strongest declaration of the Kentucky resolutions of 1798. In 1861 Wendell Phillips said in a speech at New Bedford, Mass., ‘Here are a series of States girdling the Gulf who think their peculiar institutions require that they should have a separate government. They have a right to decide that question without appealing to you or to me.’

Three days after Mr. Lincoln's election Horace Greeley in the New York Tribune said: ‘If the cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may still be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless. We must ever resist the right of any State to remain in the Union and nullify or defy the laws thereof. To withdraw from the Union is quite another matter, and whenever a considerable section of the Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.’ Quotations of a similar [13] character from sources equally as prominent could be multiplied indefinitely, showing that as far as Northern sentiment was concerned, the Southern States which passed ordinances of secession before the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln had no reason to believe that their action would meet with the result which so soon changed the feeling of acquiescence in their movement, expressed by Mr. Phillips and Mr. Greeley, into a determination to compel them to remain in the Union by force of arms—an illusive dream from which they awoke too late to avert the consequence of their acts.

Justice to the brave men who gave or risked their lives in defense of the South, demands that the truth as they saw and see it shall be stated. No enemy respects a cringing foe, and a manly submission to the results of the war, in the most unreserved sense, does not imply the surrender of mental convictions as to the causes of the war or belief in the truth of the principles for which one fought. The conditions are indeed changed, and the results of the war embodied in the amendments have altered the Constitution so as to make views tenable before the war, incompatible with that instrument as amended. As an example of those changes, it may be noted that every one now is by virtue of the Fourteenth amendment a citizen of the United States, whereas previous to its adoption he was a citizen only by virtue of being first a citizen of the State in which he lived. The latter was the chief ground upon which paramount allegiance was held to be due to the State, whereas one of the revolutionary results of the war is that Federal citizenship is placed on the higher plane. But with this exception and the elimination of slavery, for the maintenance of which the South fought because it was made the particular issue upon which her right to regulate her domestic concerns was assailed, it is a question whether the effect of the war has not been to strengthen instead of to weaken the doctrine of Jefferson as to the relative rights and [14] duties of the State and Federal governments, barring the right of determining ‘the mode and measure of redress.’ At no time have the rights of the States been more clearly defined than now, some of the strongest decisions affirming them having been rendered since the war.

Great as was the sacrifice in blood and treasure, in view of the fact that sooner or later the conflict would have come and would have been more serious the longer it was deferred, it is the part of a wise philosophy to look upon the war as not wholly an unmixed evil. It has, in one sense, made the sections better acquainted and given each a better opinion of the other, while it has eliminated slavery, which would have always caused trouble in the body politic and perhaps could never have been removed except by some such desperate process of surgery. Above all, it has insured the peace and existence of the Republic and made firmer the foundations of our liberties and the guarantees of the Constitution. The most enlightened publicists of the world now reject the shallow allegation that the Southern States engaged in war merely to rivet the claims upon the slaves who proved their most faithful servants and recognized that they were making a heroic defense of the principle of community independence and the right to regulate their own domestic affairs, which is inseparable from the idea of true republican and federal liberty. The defense of this lone principle was worth the blood shed for it, and will make future generations count well the cost-before either the central power or an aggregation of States undertakes to infringe upon the guaranteed rights of the co-equal States. In its national aspects the heroism evoked by the war is creditable to our martial spirit, while the final rehabilitation of the Union upon the terms of former equality, after the failure of Reconstruction, has taken from the vanquished the sting of defeat. To the nations of the world the spectacle has been a revelation an en- [15] couragement to the oppressed and a warning to the despotic powers, showing as it does the vitality of our system and the ability to cope with any foe in defense of a common cause. [16]

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