- Attitude of Kentucky before and during the war -- its close kindred and alliance with the South -- political status before the war -- its action when President Lincoln called for troops -- Governor Magoffin's refusal to respond Universally endorsed -- Origin of the doctrine of neutrality -- a Union proposition -- Why the Southern men Acquiesced -- how they were Deceived and overreached -- efforts of Southern Rights party to promote internal peace -- action of the legislature -- violation of neutrality by Union party -- secret introduction of Federal arms and recruiting -- William Nelson's activity -- last efforts of the Southern element -- response of President Davis and President Lincoln -- occupation of Columbus by General Polk -- action of the Legis -- Lature -- General Anderson takes command -- reign of terror -- flight of Southern leaders.
Having thus briefly glanced at the fundamental causes of the war: first, as indicated by the two opposite contending theories of constitutional construction; and second, as to the immediate occasion of the conflict in the question of slavery, it is proposed to show the part which Kentucky bore in the great struggle. Her attitude, both at the inception and during the progress of the war, has not been fully understood nor described without much error of statement, partly from a misconception of the facts and partly from their being colored by the prejudices or partialities of the writers. The position of Kentucky as a border State placed her in an embarrassing attitude. Allied to the Southern  States by similarity of institutions, by close ties of blood, of trade and political sympathy, her people yet too plainly saw the effect of her geographical position in case of war and had too broad a sense of the value of the Union to look with indifference upon the evidences of the gathering storm. There was comparatively little secession sentiment in the State. With all her sympathy for the South, Kentucky hoped to the last that the threatened dissolution of the Union could be averted. Her relations with her neighbor States to the north were cordial. In January, 1860, by invitation of the Ohio legislature, the legislature of Kentucky had visited Columbus as a body and the members of the two bodies had fraternized in the enjoyment of the most unrestrained sociability. In fact, the Ohio river, which was nominally a boundary between separate commonwealths, seemed rather to unite them only the more closely, and no human foresight could have predicted that within a little more than twelve months there would be such altered conditions. The presidential election of 1860 found the people of Kentucky much divided in political sentiment. The split in the Democratic party at the Charleston convention resulted in two Democratic tickets, and out of a vote in Kentucky of 145,862, Breckinridge and Lane received 52,836, Douglas and Johnson 25,644, while the Constitutional Union ticket of Bell and Everett received 66,016 and Lincoln and Hamlin but 1,366. So that it will be seen that while the Bell and Everett ticket received a plurality of about thirteen thousand votes, the combined vote for the Democratic tickets was nearly as much in excess of that for the former. The small vote for the Republican ticket shows that even if it did not include all who sympathized in the objects of that party, it indicated the slight foothold it had obtained in Kentucky. On the other hand, while the platforms of all three of the other organizations were antagonistic to the Republican  position on the slavery question, and while the sentiment of sympathy with the South and its principles was almost unanimous, it is not to be inferred that this extended to an approval of secession as a practical remedy of existing troubles. In January, 1861, a called session of the general assembly was held to consider the status of affairs, but a proposition to call a convention to decide as to Kentucky's ultimate action was promptly voted down. On the 21st of January a series of resolutions was introduced, declaring first, ‘that the General Assembly had heard with profound regret of the resolutions of the States of New York, Ohio, Maine and Massachusetts, tendering to the President men and money to be used in coercing sovereign States of the South into the Federal government;’ second, requesting the governor of Kentucky to inform the executives of each of said States ‘that whenever the authorities of those States shall send armed forces to the South for the purpose indicated in said resolutions, the people of Kentucky, uniting with their brethren of the South, will as one man resist the invasion of the soil of the South at all hazards and to the last extremity.’ The first resolution was adopted unanimously, and the second by a vote of eighty-seven to six. This was unquestionably a fair reflex of the sentiment of Kentucky at this juncture. It was further shown by the action of the joint convention of the Bell and Everett or Constitutional Union party and the Douglas or Union Democratic party, held shortly before this, when the following clause was adopted as part of the platform: ‘That we deplore the existence of a Union to be held together by the sword, with laws to be enforced by standing armies.’ A Union State central committee was then appointed, consisting of the following persons, all of whom were the most pronounced and active Union men in the State: John H. Harney, William F. Bullock, Geo. D. Prentice, James Speed, Charles Ripley, William P. Boone, Philip Tompert,  Hamilton Pope, Nathaniel Wolfe and Lewis E. Harvie. After the fall of Fort Sumter, Governor Magoffin, in response to the President's call for troops, again voiced the sentiment of Kentucky when he said, ‘Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern States.’ On the 17th of April, two days after the above declaration, Hon. John J. Crittenden, who had just retired from the United States Senate and was the recognized Union leader of Kentucky, made a speech in Lexington in which he approved Governor Magoffin's action, and first of all proclaimed the doctrine of neutrality, to take no part in the impending war except as a mediator between the sections, and to resist aggression of her territory by either section. Upon the next day the Union central committee named above issued an address to the people of Kentucky. After endorsing the response of Governor Magoffin to the call for troops and favoring an armed neutrality, it said, ‘Whatever the future duty of Kentucky may be, we of course cannot with certainty foresee; but if the enterprise announced in the proclamation of the President should at any time hereafter assume the aspect of a war for the overrunning and subjugation of the seceding States through the full assertion therein of the national jurisdiction by a standing military force, we do not hesitate to say that Kentucky should promptly unsheath her sword in behalf of what will then have become a common cause. Such an event, if it should occur —of which we confess there does not appear to us to be a rational probability—could have but one meaning, a meaning which a people jealous of their liberty would be keen to detect, and which a people worthy of liberty would be prompt and fearless to resist. When Kentucky detects this meaning in the action of the government, she ought, without counting the cost, to take up arms at once against the government. Until she does detect this meaning, she ought to hold herself independent of both  sides, and to compel both sides to respect the inviolability.’ A large meeting in Louisville, addressed by James Guthrie, ex-secretary of the treasury; Hon. Arch. Dixon, Hon. John Young Brown, and other strong Union men, advocated a similar policy. The Southern Rights men of Kentucky, anxious to avert war, and believing that united action in Kentucky on the lines proposed by the Union men would do so, accepted the terms proposed, and Gen. John C. Breckinridge, just then entered upon his term in the Senate and acknowledged as the Democratic leader, clasped hands with Mr. Crittenden with the assurance of hearty co-operation, and his followers sustained him in his efforts to maintain for Kentucky a position of strict neutrality. Had he declined to adopt the neutrality proposition and insisted upon the State's taking immediate action with the South, there can be no doubt that all opposition would have been overcome and Kentucky would have become an active and integral factor in the Southern Confederacy by formal State action. But with the most patriotic purpose he yielded to the seductive persuasions of those who proved afterward that their protestations were only a plea for delay, and whose subsequent acts showed that the compact was scarcely sealed before it was broken. It is sickening to recall the duplicity which ensued. Many Southern men, foreseeing the result, yet abiding the pledge, left the State singly or by squads and entered the service of the South instead of maintaining hostile organizations within her limits. Unionists of prominence visited Washington and returned with assurances alleged to have been given by Mr. Lincoln that the neutrality would be respected. The Union press of Kentucky lulled the apprehensions of the people. The Louisville Journal said emphatically that Mr. Lincoln ‘knows that he cannot have troops from Kentucky to invade the South,’ and in every form in which assurance could be given, asseveration was  made that good faith would be maintained in supporting the policy of an armed neutrality. Yet within thirty days secret emissaries were sent from Washington to organize for the subjugation of the State and to raise recruits for the Federal army. Chief of these was William Nelson, a native Kentuckian and lieutenant in the navy, whose acquaintance and social standing with the principal Southern leaders insured him unusual facilities for his operations. He mingled freely with them at Frankfort and other points, apparently having no ulterior object, yet was busy arranging for the secret introduction of arms, the issuance of commissions and the distribution of contracts for beef, mules and other supplies. Through his instrumentality five thousand stand of arms were brought into Kentucky as early as the 20th of May, and a camp formed in Garrard county, which became known as Camp Dick Robinson, where in time a number of regiments were organized. This violation of the neutrality of Kentucky, the full extent of which was not, however, known until too late, first awakened the Southern men to a realization of the deception practiced upon them, and produced a mingled feeling of distrust and resentment. Various expedients were resorted to with a view of staying the tide of war. On the 4th of May an election was held throughout the State for delegates to a Border State convention, when the ticket composed of Union men of prominence was elected without opposition, the Southern sympathizers then having confidence in the sincerity of their opponents and believing that they could be more efficient in securing favorable action. The members elected were as follows: John J. Crittenden, James Guthrie, R. K. Williams, Archie Dixon, Francis M. Bristow, Joshua F. Bell, Charles A. Wickliffe, Geo. W. Dunlap, Charles S. Morehead, James F. Robinson, John B. Huston and Robert Richardson. The convention assembled at Frankfort May 27th, and continued in session  until June 3d. Besides the delegates from Kentucky there were four from Missouri, H. A. Gamble, W. A. Hall, John B. Henderson and W. G. Pomeroy; and one from Tennessee. It resulted in an address to the people of the United States and also to the people of Kentucky, in which while the sectional troubles were deplored, and a strong plea made for the preservation of the Union, the refusal of Governor Magoffin to furnish troops to the general government to prosecute the civil war was endorsed, as also the policy of neutrality. The legislature met in called session May 6th, and appropriated $750,000 to arm the State under the direction of a military board, consisting of the governor, Samuel Gill, Geo. T. Wood, Gen. Peter Dudley and Dr. John B. Peyton, the arms to be distributed equally between the State Guard and such home guards as might be organized for home and local defense exclusively, but providing that neither the arms nor the militia were to be used ‘against the government of the United States, nor against the Confederate States, unless in protecting our soil against lawless invasion, it being the intention alone that such arms and munitions of war are to be used for the sole defense of the State of Kentucky.’ On the 16th of May the committee on Federal relations in the House of Representatives, composed of Geo B. Hodge, Curtis F. Burnam, Nat Wolfe, John G. Carlisle, J. B. Lyle, A. F. Gowdy, Richard T. Jacob and Richard A. Buckner, reported the following resolutions:
Considering the deplorable condition of the country and for which the State of Kentucky is in no way respon sible, and looking to the best means of preserving the internal peace and securing the lives, liberty and property of the citizens of the State; therefore, Resolved, by the House of Representatives, that this State and the citizens thereof should take no part in the civil war now being waged, except as mediators and friends to the belligerent parties; and that Kentucky should, during the contest, occupy the position of strict neutrality.  Resolved, that the act of the governor in refusing to furnish troops or military force upon the call of the executive authority of the United States under existing circumstances is approved.The preamble was adopted by yeas 82, nays none; the first resolution by yeas 69, nays 26, and the second resolution by yeas 89, nays 4. In accordance with this expression and in view of the current reports of the introduction of arms by Nelson and others, Governor Magoffin on the 20th of May issued his proclamation announcing the attitude of Kentucky as that of armed neutrality, ‘notifying and warning all other States whether separate or united, and especially the United States and the Confederate States, that I solemnly forbid any movement upon the soil of Kentucky, or the occupation of any port, post or place whatever within the lawful boundary and jurisdiction of this State, by any of the forces under the orders of the States aforesaid for any purpose whatever, until authorized by invitation or permission of the legislative and executive authorities of this State previously granted.’ On the following day resolutions were offered to inquire into the introduction of Federal arms into the State, which excited a spirited debate, but without reaching a vote the session closed on the 24th. In contemplating the attitude of Kentucky as disclosed by its record, it is difficult for one not an actor in those scenes to comprehend how such a status was possible and how the partisans of the two contending powers then marshaling their forces for battle, while so widely differing in their sympathies and aims, could yet present the appearance of such accord. This is to be explained by the fact that each regarded the neutrality or inaction of Kentucky from its geographical position as advantageous to their respective sides, while a large majority of the people still entertained a hope that the differences between the two sections could be arranged through the mediation of Kentucky. With Kentucky neutral the  friends of the South recognized that it gave an advantage to that section greater than any number of troops which she could contribute, since it guarded seven hundred miles of Ohio river front and made of the State a safe frontier in rear of which the armies of the South could organize free from molestation. They also felt an increased security against the ravages of war, granting that each side would act in good faith in maintaining the status quo; since they felt assured that self interest no less than explicit promise would prevent the compact being violated by the Southern armies, and believed that if it were broken by the other side, it would make the State practically a unit in opposition to the North. On the other hand the government at Washington assented to the truce for similar reasons; since it made the Tennessee line instead of the Ohio the limit of the Southern advance, and gave time for organization and for the ultimate occupation of Kentucky when the necessity should arise or the conditions prove favorable. No issue was raised as to either the right of the Federal troops to enter upon Kentucky soil or the duty of the State to obey the mandate of the Federal government. The paramount power of the central authority as against the exercise of the State's right to determine her own action was not seriously questioned, and the leading Union men who afterward became prominent as civil and military officers enforcing the most arbitrary edicts, had no difficulty in advocating, as indeed they originated, the doctrine of neutrality. It was, in fact, a diplomatic stroke on their part as the only way of arresting the tide which from the beginning set so strongly toward the South. For several months both parties were playing for the advantage. It was a skirmish for position in which the result showed that the Union party won. It assumed at first the special championship of neutrality, alleging that it was the surest guarantee of peace, and operating on the fears or cupidity of those  peacefully disposed and alarmed at the danger which war would bring to their property. It was able to carry the special congressional elections June 20, 1861, by electing nine out of ten congressmen; and in August the State election resulted in the choice of a legislature with the same element largely predominating, the Southern Rights men recognizing that they had been outmaneuvered and making a comparatively feeble contest. Recruiting meantime had been going on by both sides, with but a feeble and technical observance of the policy of neutrality. The Southern recruits had gone to the armies of the Confederacy singly or in small bodies, while a Confederate recruiting station known as Camp Boone was established in Montgomery county, Tenn., just south of the Kentucky line near Clarksville. The Unionists were no less active. Early in July Lovell H. Rousseau formed a camp in Indiana which he named Camp Joe Holt and recruited the Third Kentucky infantry, while at Camp Clay, near Cincinnati, Colonel Guthrie recruited the First, and Maj. W. E. Woodruff the Second Kentucky infantry. In Louisville, under the name of the ‘Union Club,’ a secret organization, a force amounting to over one thousand was raised and armed with guns secretly procured from Washington through the agency of Lieut. Wm. Nelson and Joshua F. Speed, an intimate personal friend of Mr. Lincoln. The most efficient Federal force, however, recruited in Kentucky at this time, was organized by Lieutenant Nelson in a quiet way at Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard county, about thirty-five miles south of Lexington. His operations, in fact, were so cautiously effected that it was not until the publication since the war of the official records that their full scope was understood. Hon. Garrett Davis, the most extreme Unionist in Kentucky, later United States senator, was active in co-operating with Nelson in the introduction of arms, but it was not at that time known that he was working directly under  the orders of the war department at Washington. In Vol. IV, Rebellion Records, page 251, appears the following letter from the adjutant-general of the army, which fully explains the secret plans of the Federal administration to gain possession of Kentucky:
On the 14th of July, 1861, Nelson in a letter from Cincinnati reported what had been done toward carrying out the foregoing instructions. He said that he had appointed Speed S. Fry, of Danville, to be colonel of the First regiment of infantry in the proposed expedition to Tennessee; Theophilus T. Garrard, of Clay county, colonel of the Second; Thomas E. Bramlette, of Adair county, colonel of the Third; and Frank Wolford, of Casey county to be lieutenant-colonel of the cavalry regiment authorized, reserving the colonelcy for W. J. Landram, who served in a cavalry regiment during the war with Mexico. He stated also that runners had been started in all directions, and that thirty companies of infantry and five of cavalry would soon be raised, and that he would muster in the companies now on duty immediately. Thus it will be seen that almost two months before the alleged violation of the neutrality of Kentucky by the occupation of Columbus by the Confederate forces under General Polk, which was made the pretext of the occupation of the State by the Federal power, the government at Washington had itself in the most formal and direct manner violated the agreement, under circumstances which strongly imply the connivance and concurrence of the very Union leaders who had advocated the doctrine of neutrality and pledged themselves and the State to maintain it. The Southern Rights men, realizing that they had been overreached, held a private conference in Scott county on Sunday, the 8th day of August, 1861, at the residence of Romulus Payne, Esq., to consider what was to be done under the circumstances. There were present Governor Magoffin and twenty-seven of the leading men of the party from many parts of the State. After full discussion and  without any proposals for resistence by force of arms, it was resolved to send commissioners to Washington and Richmond to ascertain whether or not the neutrality of Kentucky would be respected, also to call a convention looking to the preservation of peace in Kentucky, to be held at Frankfort on the 9th of September. In accordance with the recommendation of the conference, within a few days Governor Magoffin appointed George W. Johnson, of Scott county, commissioner to Richmond, and Frank K. Hunt and W. A. Dudley, well-known Union men of Lexington, commissioners to Washington. The letter borne by Mr. Johnson to President Davis, and the reply of the President here introduced, are to be found in Rebellion Records, Vol. IV, pages 378, 396.
The letters which passed between Governor Magoffin and President Lincoln were not similarly published, but the substance of Mr. Lincoln's reply was that the force raised by Lieutenant Nelson consisted exclusively of Kentuckians and was raised at the urgent solicitation of Kentuckians. The President added, ‘Taking all means to form a judgment, I do not believe it is the popular wish of Kentucky that this force shall be removed beyond her limits, and with this impression I must decline to so remove it.’ The result of this effort to save the State from the ravages of war confirmed the worst fears of the Southern men and correspondingly elated the Unionists, who threw off all disguise and advocated the occupation of the State by Federal troops. On the 15th of August, by general orders No. 57, from the adjutant-general's office at Washington, Kentucky and Tennessee had been made to constitute the Department of the Cumberland, and Gen. Robert Anderson was assigned to its command (Rebellion Records, Vol. IV, page 254), and within a short time it became evident that the crisis was near at hand. The Peace convention called by the Southern Rights leaders was held at Frankfort on the 9th and 10th of September, 1861, but resulted only in the adoption of resolutions deploring the unnatural war, advocating strict neutrality, favoring the dispersing of the Federal camps in the State, and expressing readiness when that was done to assist in enforcing the removal of the Tennesseeans  from our borders. For in the meantime, besides the presence of Nelson's force at Camp Dick Robinson, General Polk had on the 3rd occupied Columbus, and General Grant on the 5th Paducah. The legislature of Kentucky, which also met about this time, directed the governor ‘to inform those concerned that Kentucky expects the Confederate or Tennessee troops to be withdrawn from her soil unconditionally,’ and on the 18th formerly requested General Anderson, whom the records show to have exercised that function for several weeks, to take instant command and expel the invaders. Gen. George H. Thomas had on the 10th been assigned to the command of camp Dick Robinson in the following order:
Lieutenant Nelson within a few weeks was assigned to command in eastern Kentucky as brigadier-general. It required but one more move to inaugurate war in Kentucky. There had been no act either by the authorities of the State or of the Southern sympathizers which could be construed as an act of war. There had been no recruiting camps within her borders, except those established by Nelson, and while many Kentuckians had entered the service of the Southern Confederacy, there had been a scrupulous abstinence from any act which would  violate Kentucky's attitude of neutrality. They were, however, none the less plain-spoken, as shown by the speeches and resolutions of the Peace convention held at the capital on the 9th and 10th of September. Their very forbearance from the commission of overt acts exasperated the Union leaders, who wished a pretext for extreme measures. Having no ground for arrests they began them at any rate, the first victims being ex-Gov. Charles S. Morehead and Col. R. T. Durrett, of Louisville, who on the night of the 18th of September, 1861, were dragged from their beds and without warrant or charge preferred against them, were carried across the Ohio into Indiana, and thence sent east and imprisoned in Fort Warren, Boston harbor. Next day, under the false pretext that the Southern men were going to seize Lexington, but having really in view the arrest of ex-Vice-President John C. Breckinridge and other prominent Southern men quietly at their homes, Col. Thomas E. Bramlette, with his regiment, then at Camp Dick Robinson, marched for Lexington and took possession of that place at midnight or shortly thereafter. But General Breckinridge had been apprised of this purpose, and early in the evening left for Richmond via Prestonsburg and Pound gap. A number of other prominent Southern men, as Gen. William Preston, George W. Johnson, George B. Hodge, and William E. Simms, left at the same time to avoid arrest on the one hand and the inauguration of civil war at their own thresholds on the other. Thus was the long by-play which had been carried on by and between the Unionists of Kentucky and the Federal authorities for five months terminated in a manner which if it had not been the prelude of so much woe would have been farcical. The hand which had been gloved in velvet was suddenly revealed, mailed in steel and instigated to strike the blow by the spirit of a long pent — up vengeance. The dogs of war were turned loose, making flight or imprisonment the al-ternative of those who would not bow before the violence thus enthroned.