Friday, April 20, 2012
The CONFEDERATE STATE of KENTUCKY
By Bob Hurst
Just over ten years ago ( February of 2002, to be exact) the Florida Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) held a dedication ceremony and flag-raising at a site just off Interstate 75 near White Springs, Florida.The large flag being raised on the 100-foot flagpole and the monuments being unveiled represented the second site in our flag placement program called "Flags Across Florida". An earlier ceremony had been held in December 1999 at a site on US Highway 27 just south of the Georgia-Florida line which was about twenty miles north of Tallahassee. This first site was smaller and not on an interstate highway so it didn’t get the media attention of the White Springs site, nor of our third state site which was dedicated in April 2009 on I-75 just east of Tampa.
What I well remember about the dedication of the White Springs site was the scathing editorial that appeared in the local newspaper here in Tallahassee. Why, you would have thought from reading the editorial that our flag alongside the interstate would single-handedly wreck the Florida economy by bringing an end to tourism in the state. The editorial raved about the terrible impression the flag would make on all those northern visitors coming to Florida to enjoy our attractions and spend their money. The editorial even asked what would people think of us when one of the first things they would see upon entering the state is a Confederate flag.
I couldn’t resist responding to the editorial so I sent a brief communication to the head of the editorial board stating that most of those people would likely think that Florida was a Southern state that took pride in its history and heritage. I also suggested that perhaps she should be more concerned with the impression made on the tourists by a long series of billboards that began on I-75 about twenty miles south of our flag site that featured scantily-clad or unclad young women proclaiming, "We bare all". I wondered if she had a problem with those billboards and the impression they would make on Florida’s family-friendly image. I never received a response.
I thought about all this recently when I read on the internet that the Kentucky Division of the SCV was about to dedicate a park featuring a large Confederate Battle Flag flying from a tall pole on a site just off Interstate 24 near Paducah. It always thrills me when I learn of these sites where our Confederate ancestors will be honored. This will also be a very pretty spot where visitors can sit on benches to relax or just enjoy the surroundings. Kudos to the Kentucky Division!
As to be expected, though, as always happens whenever anything concerning the "C" word ("Confederate") is involved, some of the always complaining people will complain and some elected officials can be counted-upon to deliver some smarmy, politically-correct statement denouncing the flag. Some Kentucky officials didn’t disappoint. The Judge-Executive (whatever that is) of the county was quoted as saying, "There are people that view that flag with disdain. It’s going to be seen by travelers, and we don’t need that. That’s unfortunate." Not to be outdone, the Deputy Judge-Executive (?) chimed in with, "We would prefer it not being there, of course." (By the way, there was no report of what the "Assistant Deputy Judge-Executive" or the "Associate Assistant Deputy Judge-Executive", or other officials had to say about the matter.)
The nice thing is that the park is located on private property so the SCV has a First Amendment right to fly the flag. One has to wonder, however, considering recent events how much longer in this country any of us will have that right. Incidentally, there are many other sites around the South where heritage groups (primarily SCV divisions and camps) have created these sites where our beautiful battle flag is flown.
I attended the dedication ceremony several years ago for that marvelous site in Alabama which overlooks I-65 between Birmingham and Montgomery. There is also another site in Alabama, I am told, near Mobile. I understand that Georgia now has sites on I-75, I-85, I-95 and I-16. I know there is a site in Tennessee just south of Nashville and I have heard that others are planned. When I first heard of the plans several years ago for the Kentucky site, I was told that the Arkansas Division, SCV, was also in the process of locating land near an interstate highway that could be obtained and used for the creation of a park site.
I find all of this to be good news (and exciting, also) and it all shows that there are many people still willing to "ride to the sound of the guns".
Now, I imagine that some of you reading this column were confused when you read the title because you remembered those maps from your history books that showed eleven Confederate states and Kentucky was not one of them. Well, make no mistake about it, there are many reasons why Kentucky can certainly be considered Confederate.
It begins with the fact that Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was a native Kentuckian. Yes, I know that Lincoln guy was also supposedly born in Kentucky although there are people who disagree. (Imagine that, disagreement over where a president of this country was born…hmmm.)
When Abraham Lincoln sent a telegram to the Kentucky governor, Beriah Magoffin, asking for state troops to help fight the South, the governor responded: "I will send not a man nor a dollar for the wicked purpose of subduing my sister Southern states." Lincoln recognized the strategic importance of Kentucky and was reported to have said: "I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."
Actually, it was the desire of the state to remain neutral and both houses of the General Assembly passed declarations of neutrality on May 20, 1861. By September of 1861 both Union and Confederate forces were occupying the state. On September 7th the General Assembly (which tilted pro-Union) passed a resolution ordering the removal of Confederate troops.
In response, a group of Southern sympathizers moved to create a Confederate government for the Commonwealth. Delegates from 68 counties met in Russellville and passed an Ordinance of Secession on November 20, 1861, and designated Bowling Green as the capital of the state. George W. Johnson was elected governor. Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861, and a Confederate State Seal was adopted by the state on January 16, 1862.
By February 1862, Union forces had overwhelmed the Confederate forces in Bowling Green and General Albert Sidney Johnston ordered his troops to abandon the capital.The government then traveled with General Johnston’s army. Governor Johnson, sadly, was killed at Shiloh while serving on active duty with the Confederate Army. The government later re-entered the state but was again forced out after the Battle of Perryville.
So there you have it. Not only was there an Ordinance of Secession passed by delegates from all over the state, but Kentucky was also admitted to the Confederacy by action of the Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis. But there is so much more to the story of the Confederate state of Kentucky. The state supplied to the Confederacy not only one of the most celebrated units of the Confederate Army, the "Orphan Brigade", but also provided 37 Confederate generals who were natives of the state. Among these generals were names that are still legendary.
Well-known native Kentuckians who wore the sacred gray include Albert Sidney Johnston, John Bell Hood, John C. Breckenridge, Basil Duke, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Joseph Shelby, Ben Hardin Helm, Richard Taylor and Roger Hanson to name a few. Ironically, perhaps the best-known Confederate military "Kentuckian" was not a native of the Blue Grass State but became a Kentuckian by choice. This, of course, was the magnificent John Hunt Morgan.
Space does not permit an extensive biography of all the noted Kentuckians affiliated with the Confederate Cause, but I would like to thumbnail a few.
Of the 425 Confederate generals, only eight reached the rank of full general (4-star equivalent) and two of these were native Kentuckians – Albert Sidney Johnston and John Bell Hood. Although each is historically linked more closely to Texas, both were native Kentuckians with Johnston having been born in Washington, Kentucky, and Hood in Owingsville. I think it can safely be said that the loss of General Johnston at Shiloh ranks with the loss of General Stonewall Jackson after Chancellorsville as the two greatest setbacks to the Confederate military effort during the War.
John C. Breckenridge was not only a superb military commander (his victory at New Market and his role in the Washington Raid with Jubal Early are both well-established in Confederate lore) but he was also a leading political figure having been Vice-President of the United States (under James Buchanan), a candidate for president (1860) and later the Secretary of War for the Confederacy.
I have long had an affinity for Ben Hardin Helm who was married to the sister of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln offered him a commission in the U.S. Army, Helm’s response was that he would think about the offer and then would do what was right. He consulted with his friend, Robert E. Lee, and was told to follow his conscience and his honor. Not long afterward, Ben Helm notified Lincoln that he would be wearing the sacred gray. General Helm was mortally wounded at Chickamauga while leading his brigade, for the third time in one day, into the face of heavy enemy fire. When told later that evening that a fourth assault against the weakened enemy position had been successful, General Helm quietly said the word "Victory" and peacefully died.
Kentuckian Jo Shelby, linked closely with the action west of the Mississippi River, is often compared with Nathan Bedford Forrest for his fighting skills, audacity and effectiveness.
Simon Bolivar Buckner declined a commission as brigadier general in the U.S. Army before being appointed brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He was a superb commander who eventually reached the rank of lieutenant general. After the War, this outstanding leader was elected governor of the state.
I cannot end this article without giving special mention to John Hunt Morgan. Though born in Alabama, he became a Kentucky (and Southern) legend. Perhaps the word that would best describe the great Morgan is "bold". His raids behind enemy lines became the stuff of legend and brought fear to the Union Army. He was also adept at destroying enemy railroad lines. His exploits were so spectacular that the Southern press christened him "The Thunderbolt of the Confederacy". He was quite a man.
Well, I think it is evident that Kentucky can certainly be considered a Confederate state and that it is altogether fitting and proper for there to be a Confederate Park, with a battle flag flying, on Interstate 24 or any other highway in the Blue Grass State. Hopefully, there will be many more to come.
Before closing, let me give a shout-out to the Lt. Col. Thomas M. Nelson Camp #141 in Albany, Georgia, and its fine commander, James King. I had the pleasure, at the invitation of Commander King, to speak at the Annual Southwest Georgia Confederate Memorial Service held each April in Albany. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the beautiful "Confederate Park" that was conceived and brought into existence by the camp. It is also maintained by those gentlemen. The day, the crowd, the setting, the artillery unit and color guard and the hospitality all made for a splendid occasion and, once again, reaffirmed to me how lucky and happy I am to be a Southerner. I was also very impresed with the fact that almost a dozen SCV camps were represented in the crowd. Altogether, just another splendid day in our beloved Southland.