Letters between two brothers, part of the Furman A. Smith Collection at WKU’s Special Collections Library, demonstrate the intensity of feeling that fractured families during the Civil War. Writing from central Illinois in 1863 to his brother Furman in Trigg County, Kentucky, William Riley Smith reported that “blood still gets hotter here for the cause of the Union.” William himself was a believer: “I say crush the rebellion to bug dust.” He focused most of his anger, however, on the slaves emancipated by President Lincoln’s executive order of September 22, 1862, which had taken effect on January 1, 1863. Using a racial epithet associated more with the South, William declared bitterly that “all our troubles have grown out of the n—-r.” He recalled his father’s prophesy that slaves “would prove a curse to our nation” because God would not allow their suffering to continue forever. As a result, William had lost one of his best friends to rebels who, in his opinion, preferred shedding blood over the fate of slaves to preserving “our glorious government.”
Three years after the war, William was still smoldering. Writing to Furman about another brother from whom he had not heard in six months, he complained, “I suppose he thinks that if the South could not dissolve this great Union that he will dissolve friendship between himself and those that love the Union.”
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