Tag Archives: Civil War

Full Disclosure

Edward Crossland and his bio

Edward Crossland and his bio

It was an impressive resume, probably written for the Congressional Directory, that Edward Crossland (1827-1881) composed on letterhead of the 42nd Congress of the United States.  Elected as a Democrat in 1870 to represent Kentucky’s First Congressional District, the Hickman County native was a lawyer and former state representative who had resigned a judgeship in order to go to Washington.  Among his accomplishments, Crossland carefully noted the margin of his electoral victory–7,930 votes to 2,980–over his GOP opponent.

As is common in a mid-term election, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Republican Party had lost seats in the House, but retained its overall majority.  Also expected, perhaps, was Crossland’s omission, in these first years of Reconstruction, of some dramatic biographical details: as an officer in the Confederate Army, he had seen battle in Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the last being under controversial Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest (“that devil Forrest,” in U.S. Grant’s words) as he tried to defend Selma in the last days of the Civil War.

Crossland’s non-disclosure of his military career might have led to a flurry of cable news comment today, but there was no cause for concern among his supporters in the South, where Democratic candidates successfully ran against Radical Republicans and their civil rights agenda.  On March 11, 1871, in fact, the Hickman Courier expressed relief at the news that Crossland had been duly sworn in as a member of Congress.  “Many leading men in this District,” the editors reported, “entertained serious apprehensions that Radical vindictiveness would seek to exclude him from the seat to which our people had elected him.”

Edward Crossland’s handwritten biography is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other Kentucky political collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Dog’s Life

On May 23, 1863, Illinois volunteer George Messer, nursing a swollen ankle and the first signs of scurvy, penned a letter to his wife from Camp Hobson near Glasgow, Kentucky.  Some of his news, he admitted, “may appear somewhat ridiculous but it is nevertheless true.”  He and his comrades had been ordered to surrender their tents in exchange for new ones.  He then described the wedge-shaped tents that appear in so many images of Civil War encampments.  Each soldier carried one half of the tent, a two-pound sheet of canvas about six feet square.  When buttoned at the top, supported with poles or saplings, and anchored to the ground, they formed a rudimentary shelter for two men.  Judging these accommodations to be more fit for canines than humans, the soldiers quickly dubbed them “dog tents.”

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

The dog tent (Photo by David Walbert, (c) 2009, CC BY-NC-SA 2.5)

Messer noted sarcastically that when his regimental commander required the men “to appear like Gentlemen on all and every occasion,” yet made them haul and use these “low and unhandy” tents, “it is more than enough to cause the soldier to be pleased and satisfied.”  His mates had made sure to communicate their “satisfaction” the next morning while preparing for roll call.  “You never heard such barking as the boys made,” he wrote, “they imitated from the Bull dog down to the little Rat terrier and they would frequently break out into a fight in imitations of dogs.”  A couple of unpopular promotions had also rankled the men, but Messer admitted that the wisest course was “to quietly submit” to these recent affronts.  In such circumstances, however, he found the rumors of a military draft disquieting. Imagine the barking then, he implied: “There is enough of the soldiers dissatisfied now and those that would be drafted into the army would be more so.”

George Messer’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and typescript.  For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Pardon Me (Please!)

Josiah Pillsbury's respite

Josiah Pillsbury’s respite

On December 10, 1861, the Confederate States of America officially recognized a group of secessionists calling themselves the Provisional Confederate Government of Kentucky.  This “shadow” regime, however, never gained legitimacy in Frankfort; in fact, it chose Bowling Green, then under occupation by Confederate forces, as its capital.  (A historical marker commemorating the designation stands on WKU’s campus).

The first governor of Confederate Kentucky was Scott County lawyer George W. Johnson.  In need of someone to fill the position of Auditor, and because his first choice had declined, Johnson asked Josiah Pillsbury of Bowling Green to serve in a temporary capacity.

Pillsbury’s reward for doing this favor for his friend was to find himself, along with other officials of the Provisional Government, indicted for treason by a Warren County grand jury.  In “claiming to be auditor in said pretended government,” read the indictment, Pillsbury had acted “in usurpation of the regular legitimate and constitutional government of the state” and cooperated with an army in “open rebellion” in order to wage war on the good citizens of the county.

Horrified, Pillsbury wrote a “my bad” letter, now in the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society, to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette.  He had wanted no part of the Confederate government, he insisted, but accepted the Auditor’s position only to accommodate Johnson until a replacement could be found. Supporting Pillsbury’s request for clemency were prominent Bowling Green attorneys William V. Loving and Robert Rodes.

Governor Bramlette obliged, but the document filed with the Warren County court was not a full pardon.  The constitution, Kentucky’s Secretary of State warned Pillsbury, only gave the Governor power to issue a temporary “respite”; the document Bramlette signed was, in fact, an edited version of a form used to extend the time for criminals “sentenced to be hung.”

The indictment of Josiah Pillsbury (who was eventually pardoned by President Lincoln) and other members of the Provisional Confederate Government of Kentucky, along with Bramlette’s respite, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more Civil War collections, click here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Fog of Civil War Kentucky

Civil War flagsIn a letter recently added to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, a Confederate cavalryman tells his father of the ambiguities of war that confronted his Tennessee regiment after it occupied Brownsville, Kentucky.

First to be deciphered were the loyalties of the local citizenry: “strongly Union & Lincoln,” wrote the Rebel, and some “few southern men.”  But he detected “a difference between a Kentucky Union man & a Lincoln or an abolitionist.”  The principles of the latter made him more willing to fight, while the former, if forced to shed his neutrality, would cast his lot with the South.

Next was the level of the threat facing the Confederates, camped on a hill overlooking the town.  Someone had taken a shot at one of them while he was watering his horse at the Green River, prompting him to empty his pistol and raise the alarm. His comrades saddled and assembled in minutes to meet any attack with “a true Southern reception,” but both sides appeared to avoid any escalation.

Then came the question of how the occupiers should assert their authority, and here our correspondent had great praise for the diplomatic skill of his captain, John Bell Hamilton, a Tennessee lawyer and Methodist clergyman.  The “old United States flag was waving here when we came,” he wrote, but Captain Hamilton “gave the citizens a chance to take it down and they did so.”  There was, however, “no shouting, when it fell, for the Capt had injoined upon us not to, thinking it the best policy.”  And likewise, “no demonstration” had accompanied the raising of the Confederate flag in camp.  This “cautious & prudent” commander, wrote his subordinate with evident relief, was “making friends, certainly no enemies.”

A finding aid and typescript of this Confederate soldier’s letter can be accessed here.  For more Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Hale’s Recollections of Confederate Guerilla “Champ Ferguson”

Champ Ferguson

Champ Ferguson

The Civil War as a research topic never ceases to draw interest. The addition of a broadsheet to the Kentucky Library Research Collections adds to our excellent holdings about Champ Ferguson. This sheet features Dr. Jonathan D. Hale’s recollections of the life of the Confederate Guerilla and includes a facsimile of a Ku Klux Klan threatening letter sent to Hale in 1868. The letter received from the Klan in 1868 was sent from Lodge Headquarters in Arkansas, on a “dark and dismal night, from a “muddy Road with BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD. The letter issued a strong warning: “This is to notify you that the Spirit of Champ Ferguson still lives, and there are men living that are determined to avenge his death – and you are also aware that your oppressive and wicked acts toward the best citizens of Overton County stand recorded against you -… Prepare to meet your God.”
Champ Ferguson was a personal enemy of Hale and destroyed his home and business. The state of Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan, Alvan Cullom, the killing of “Little Fount Zachery”, Henry Sublits(sic), loss of much property and the loyalties of Ferguson are noted. And that he was worthy of execution by hanging. “The military trial, held in Nashville, Tennessee, lasted from July to October 1865. Ferguson was sentenced to be hanged; he was denied the opportunity to provide a defense on his behalf, and the sentence was carried out on October 20, 1865. Ferguson’s body was turned over to his wife and daughter, who fulfilled his last request which was to be buried at his home in White County, Tennessee, on a branch of Calfkiller Creek.”
Hale would leave Tennessee and live out the rest of his life in New Hampshire having grown tired of being a “damn Yankee.”
See http://www.ajlambert.com/history/ct_hus.pdf
For more information on Champ Ferguson and the Civil War, visit WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, or contact spcol@wku.edu. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Confederate Rail-Splitter

Alexander Morse's letter from Bowling Green

Alexander Morse’s letter from Bowling Green

Our collection of Bowling Green-related Civil War resources in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections continues to grow with the addition of an 1861 letter of Confederate cavalryman Alexander P. Morse.

Camped near Bowling Green, Morse, a member of the First Louisiana Cavalry, tells his father of the influx of some 20,000 Southern forces to the area, with another 15,000 in striking range.  “We see nobody but soldiers, and nothing but guns & ammunition,” he wrote from his perch on a “well graduated hill.”  Despite the prevalence of measles among the men, he was “as well and hearty as a buck,” chopping wood with “as much ‘sang froid’ as Abe Lincoln or any other rail splitter,” and catching sleep on a mattress not yet consigned to the sick.

Although he noted that a force of Texas Rangers was attempting to engage Union troops at Green River, Morse was more excited by his dinner conversation with a fellow Louisianan who had witnessed the Battle of Belmont near Columbus, Kentucky.  Over a “great treat” of a meal, Lieut. Col. Daniel Beltzhoover showed Morse the sword he used in the fight, cut through with a minie ball just as he drew it.

An interesting postscript: After the war, Morse became a prominent lawyer.  One of his clients was Louisiana Judge John H. Ferguson, the defendant in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld racial segregation laws until overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education.  Morse’s principal contribution to legal scholarship, a treatise on the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen,” is best left to discussion in other blogs.

Click here to access a finding aid and typescript of Alexander Morse’s letter, and here to browse our Civil War collections.  For more of our manuscript collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Woman’s View of the Fight

Union and Confederate letterheadsIn Kentucky, the imminent breakup of the Union in 1861 and the approach of civil war sparked lively intra-family debates.  In the Brown Family Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, a transcribed letter to Charles Ewing Nourse (the Browns were his in-laws) from his older sister Sarah (“Sally”) Doom, the wife of a Nelson County tanner, eloquently shows her struggle to make sense of the war.

Was it a purely political question of states’ rights, Sally wondered, versus an intrusive federal authority?  “I cannot,” she wrote, “look upon the disruption of the most glorious Government that man ever saw, with any sympathy or pleasure.”  The whole, she believed, was greater than the sum of its parts, and the initial secession of South Carolina would lead to “the privilege of all to secede into innumerable petty states which can and will be overthrown and enslaved by any Foreign power that may desire it.”  Insisting that she was “very green to try to talk politics,” Sally nevertheless declared that “if I were a man I would devote myself to my country (if I had the sense).”

But she wanted to dig deeper into the matter.  “We ought to weigh the thing better than we have,” she continued.  To those claiming that secession would remedy the current crisis, and that it was worthwhile to “throw away” the benefits of a federal government, she cut to the chase:

Could I believe the South were actuated by noble feelings, I could sympathize with them.  But the grand moving object of ‘our noble progenitors’ is the survival of the African slave trade . . . in my opinion the most degrading, despicable occupation a people could engage in.

Click here to access a finding aid for Sally’s letter.  For more collections on the Civil War and slavery, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.  Click here to browse a list of our Civil War collections.

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Tearing Up the Roads

Minute obstacles can cause huge delays when moving armies.  If anyone doubts this, they need only see how a small accident or distraction can stymy traffic on a major interstate.  During wars, strategic transportation routes are often heavily reconnitored or destroyed in order to impede an army’s progress.  In Kentucky roads and railroads were of major importance for moving troops and supplies during the Civil War, particularly in the interior.  Steamboats were more significant on the Commonwealth’s perimeters.

A Civil War era illustration from Frank Leslie's.

A Civil War era illustration from Frank Leslie’s.

In a letter recently donated to the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of the Department of Library Special Collections, Confederate J.J. Williams writes to his wife Emeline about how the southern army had played menace with the Louisville and Nashville railroad, which had only recently been completed through Bowling Green.  To disable the railroad, Williams wrote, “our men had torn up the rail road some 5 or 6 miles and Blowed up the tunnel and burnt the ties[,] beat the rails to pieces with a Sledg[e].”  They wreaked further havoc by blockading the Louisville and Nashville road “by cutting the trees a cross it for a bout 3 miles and Some other Place they have plowed up the road so they can not haul a thing a long it.” To see the finding aid for this small collection and a typescript of the letter, click here.

To search finding aids for hundreds of other Civil War letters in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit, click here.

The salutation of J.J. Williams' letter to his wife, 13 January 1862.

The salutation of J.J. Williams’ letter to his wife, 13 January 1862.

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Fortress Bowling Green

When Union troops arrived in Bowling Green, Kentucky in February, 1862 after a 5-month-long Confederate occupation, they found a town stripped of its timber, livestock and foodstuffs, its railroad depot set afire, its Barren River bridges destroyed, its secessionist sympathizers in flight, and its Northern sympathizers relieved but still apprehensive at the sight of another occupying force.

Bowling Green defenses, 1863

Bowling Green defenses, 1863

Despite the destruction, the troops also found a daunting array of Confederate fortifications.  Bowling Green, at the confluence of road, rail and river routes into the South, was considered a prize by both sides, and the defenses constructed during their occupation had emboldened the Confederates.  We “are too well fixed for the Yankees to come here,” Tennessee volunteer James McWhirter boasted to his sister.  “If they ever come we will give them a genteel whipping.”

The Confederates, nevertheless, had evacuated without a major clash ever taking place, a stroke of luck that left the Union forces relieved.  “I don’t think it would pay them to attack this place from the looks of the forts around here,” Erasmus Shull wrote his aunt.  Lieutenant Colonel George Jouett was similarly impressed, calling Bowling Green a “city of fortifications.”  The College Hill fort was “an almost unapproachable fortress,” he wrote his mother, and Baker Hill is “quite as strong and perfect.”  Ohio infantryman George Jarvis notified his family of “a glorious but bloodless victory” that “gives us possession of one of the strongholds of this state.”

Accounts of the war came to describe fortified Bowling Green as the “Gibraltar of Kentucky.”  Two of the above letters, however, confirm that this was a contemporary characterization, even if the correspondents were a little unsure of their spelling.  George Jouett found Bowling Green a “Gibralter which could not be taken by assault,” and George Jarvis agreed that “in fact it is the Gibralter of Kentucky.”  Only lack of supplies, illness, and setbacks elsewhere (losses at Mill Springs and Fort Henry, and pressure at Fort Donelson) had convinced the Confederates to withdraw before a serious test of its defenses.

These letters about Bowling Green’s Civil War fortifications are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click on the links to access finding aids, and click here to browse a list of our Civil War collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Passage to India

Benjamin Covington Grider; Edwin Barter's letter

Benjamin Covington Grider; Edwin Barter’s letter

The acquaintance of Edwin Barter and Colonel Benjamin Covington Grider of Bowling Green dated back to the first year of the Civil War, during Grider’s command of the Union’s 9th Kentucky Infantry.  When Grider next heard from him, Barter had left his home in England to pursue the cotton and coffee trade in India.

In an August, 1865 letter from Madras Province, Barter observed that America had finally turned a page.  “The war for Southern rights is well nigh over, and ‘subjugation’ ‘Coercion’ and ‘precipitation’ are words buried,” he declared.  Now it was time to “count the cost” of “3/4 century’s folly and vice.”  Barter had heard that a local judge was out to get Robert E. Lee, but couldn’t imagine Americans being vindictive toward the Confederate general.

Once in India, however, Barter struck a more mercenary tone toward its brown-skinned inhabitants.  Regarding them with an air of superiority common to many in the West, he likened them to primitives who “draw water from the well and cook their simple food after the same style as their ancestors who lived before Britain was known to the Romans.”  He scorned the natives at length as mendacious, lacking in “go-a-headativeness,” and seemingly immune to attempts to introduce them to the benefits of Christianity and European civilization.  India, he remarked, has “180 million of inhabitants who are governed by 3 or 4 hundred thousand Britains [sic] who exile themselves for a certain number of years, never, or very seldom indeed, permanently settling in the Country, but ever looking forward to the day when they will have pocketed enough to turn their faces towards home.”  Barter described his own prospects as good, but agreed that he was not “at home.”  “How long residence?” he asked tersely–wondering, perhaps, about the political costs awaiting Britain in three-quarters of a century.

Edwin Barter’s letter to Benjamin Grider is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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