Lawyer, legislator and merchant Edward Rumsey Weir (1816-1891) was a prominent citizen and one of the largest slaveholders of Greenville, Kentucky. In that contradictory fashion common to many Civil War-era Kentuckians, he was also an abolitionist and a supporter of the Union. As the war approached, Weir was vocal in his animus toward secession. But he would do much more, putting his time and money to work recruiting and equipping home guards to defend Muhlenberg County and helping to raise troops for the regular army.
January 20, 1861 found Weir in Washington, D.C., just ahead of the admission of “bleeding Kansas” as the newest member of the fracturing United States. Observing the tensions of the capital, he wrote his son Edward, Jr. of his impressions in terms we could apply today to the current impasse in its political culture.
After a quick look around, Weir pronounced Washington “a queer city,” its “acute angles,” “sharp ended houses & squares” and “streets that seem to go no where & end no where” guaranteed to mystify and frustrate the stranger. Lodged at the famed Willard Hotel, Weir spied “six or eight Senators & fifteen or twenty members” of the House among his fellow guests. Though they all appeared “quiet, orderly & sober,” they did not strike him as “men of commanding talent.”
Weir knew his son would be curious to know “what is going on at Washington,” but answered only “that the newspapers will keep you better advised” than anyone in the city. There was, in fact, a strange silence on the subject of war: “No man would dream,” he wrote, “that the country was in a state of revolution, from the conduct and appearance of our public men.” Only the occasional rants of “some half drunken fellow” gave a clue that anything was wrong.
Weir, sadly, concluded only “one thing – a peaceful separation is positively impossible.” More than ever pledged to the cause of Union, he nevertheless feared for Kentucky’s future if his countrymen were to “kill off our friends in the North.”
Click here to download a finding aid for the Weir Family Collection, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. For other Civil War collections, browse here or search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.