Thursday, June 30, 2016

Some Thoughts on Free State of Jones

I am in no way, shape or form a movie buff, but as a student of the Civil War, I wanted to see Free Story of Jones when I heard about it and, surprisingly, have already seen it, only a few days after its release. I did not even see Lincoln until a couple of months after it came out, so this was different.

I enjoyed this movie. It was entertaining and seemed reasonably believable, not like a fairy tale or total fabrication. I will discuss it here a bit, with the disclaimer that I do not watch a lot of movies and am not an experienced reviewer of them, even ones based on historical occurrences. I won't discuss acting, cinematography or anything like that. 

This may end up as more of a "discussion" than an actual review, as I try to explain the thoughts I had during and after seeing it. I do not intend to give any sort of "spoilers" in this discussion but I make no promises, so anybody who does not want to read about parts of the storyline may want to read this post later. I imagine I will get into some specific scenes for which I had some thoughts or ideas.

I also admit that I have not read the book on which the movie is based, nor studied the situation in Mississippi much, so I cannot opine on how accurate the details of the movie are. I will just do my best to describe the thoughts and reactions that the movie provoked in my mind.

The intensity of the movie surprised me. The intensity (the best word I an think to use) began with the excellent (and surprising) opening scenes. Whoever decided to open the movie like that made a very good call . Not all of the movie was at that same level, but much of it was, which I thought made the whole movie better. 

I like that the movie has both action scenes and more "talking" scenes instead of all of just one of those. Another movie I watched the same day was almost all action and fighting. It was a decent film (seeing it in 3D helped) but all of the action kind of blended together. That really did not happen in Free State. 

The portrayal of Newton Knight as a soldier and how he became disillusioned with the Confederacy seemed reasonable. The reality of battle, his nephew's death, the tax-in-kind on common citizens and the 20 Negro rule all were part of the script. The common line "rich man's war, poor man's fight" also was spoken as part of his developing dislike towards the cause for which he had enlisted.

His escape from the Confederates who were trying to catch him seemed a bit too good to be true to me. Even when the dog caught him and delayed  him, the rest of the party did not catch up to him or see exactly where he went, even as he limped forward.

Once he was in the swamp with a few escaped slaves and an increasing number of deserters, the remaining Confederates came across as silly, almost stupid, repeatedly going down what appeared to be the same road in the woods only to be ambushed by Knight's men multiple times without seeming to try a different route or strategy. Did it really happen like that?

When the story needed to show the increase in the number of Confederate deserters, it simply flashed "July 1863, Vicksburg is surrendered. Desertion increases" on the screen. I guess that was a good way to tell of increased desertion in a timely manner, but thought the movie could have at least indicated that Vicksburg was also in Mississippi, like the rest of the story. Any non-Civil War students may not have realized that and I do think that would have helped at least a bit.

Also at this time, two images of the damage caused by war flashed on the screen. I did not recognize one of them, but the other was the famous image of the Dunker Church at Antietam. My first instinct was to ask why use an image from such a far battlefield, but this really does not matter. That level of detail was probably insignificant; I suppose the picture used was good enough to make its point.

A couple other items I wish to mention include the "hanging" scene. I thought it was very good overall, especially the lead-up showing the emotions involved - the fear and sadness were very clear - but thought it could have been more powerful or intense had they shown the bodies dropping and jolting to a stop. That may have, however, been a bit too much for the intended audience, so I cannot complain much about it.

The role women played in this movie was noteworthy too. The moment I especially noticed it was when the women were sitting and shucking the corn while the men were picking it and carrying the baskets of corn to be shucked. There was an unmistakeable separation of gender roles in that scene, but in earlier and later scenes the movie showed women running the household while men were gone, directing slaves to help refugees and even carrying arms to defend their homes. A later scene even showed women firing guns at Confederates who were trying to capture Newton and his men. This movie did portray mostly traditional roles for men and women (men in the army, women at home) but still gave the women some strength and determination. They were not helpless victims at all.

I thought the same showed for the African-Americans who joined Knight's group, though I thought they disappeared for a while. When Knight went into the swamps, he was with a small group of escaped slaves but as the movie showed the increasing amount of army deserters joining Knight, the ex-slaves did not seem to be as present for a while, before re-emerging as strong characters towards the end of the film. I thought the various scenes showing some parts of African-American life as slaves and immediately after the war added a lot of meaning to the movie. The characters "Rachel" and "Moses" were especially important ones.

This added meaning especially showed up in the Reconstruction scenes. Having a section on Reconstruction was a great, perhaps brilliant, idea, providing valuable perspective on some of the difficulties African-Americans faced during this time and the legacy of the war. This is a lesson many (most?) American can use. 

I did find the Reconstruction section, as valuable as it was, to be a bit disjointed. There were frequent captions on the screen to provide information on what was happening or on what the movie could not show. It seemed to me that the movie writers had a lot to say in this part of the film, but did not have enough time, so they had to pick and chose some storylines to include while omitting others. The final product turned out well, but perhaps could have been smoother, though that may be easier said than done. Even a long movie like this has limits.

The voting scene, including the showing of the actual vote count, with only two Repiublican votes being counted, was very effective.

One nit I do wish to pick here was that the Reconstruction piece of the film began with a quick showing of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln to represent his passing. I felt that an image of the actual assassination would have been more powerful in showing the change of leadership.

In addition to the war and Reconstruction storylines, the  various court scenes about the challenge to Knight's descendant's attempted marriage were powerful as well, showing how the legacies of the war and reconstruction (and the importance of race and racial roles) were still around Mississippi in the 1940s, so many years later. This was tied in to the movie's depiction of the relationship between Knight and Rachel, giving these scenes a connection to the rest of the story.

One thing that I noted and thought was interesting about the entire film is that the words "Confederacy" and its derivatives ("Confederate," etc.) were barely mentioned. I only remember seeing it in a couple of the captions and am not sure if any characters uttered such words. If so, it was not frequent. I wonder if this was intentional and if it actually means much or was just a natural part of the story's flow. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, despite the few small quibbles I mentioned. It is a long movie, but tells several different stories about the war, Recinstruction, race relations and family ties. There is quite a bit of intense action throughout it, as well as a mix of more peaceful scenes of thought and discussion. It features several characters who earn the viewers' sympathies, as well as a few "villains" who are less likable. I certainly believe that anyone interested in the Civil War should find time to go see it and that even those not particularly interested in history should as well. I may even go see it again, which is not something I often do for movies. (I'm not sure I have ever watched the same movie twice in a theater.) It is a good, enjoyable film with plenty of action, stories and characters to catch the viewers' interest and tells a story of the Civil War era perhaps unlike any other in popular media. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Press vs. Press: A Few Period Thoughts on the Charleston Mercury

This brief untitled story is from the Covington Journal of March 9, 1861. 

The Charleston Mercury is frequently quoted in the North as a representative of Southern opinion. The following, from the Mobile Register, will remove ths false impression.

"No man who has more than the merest superficial knowledge of current politics, or, who does not deliberately intend to mislead, will quote the Charleston Mercury as the leader or even the organ of the prevailing sentiment of South Carolina, much less the Cotton States at large."

"Always discontented and grumbling, arrogant in tone, flippant in judgment, intolerant in any opinion but its own, intensely self-sufficient and supercilious, I should, indeed, regret to be compelled to accept it as the exponent or type of South Carolina character. So far from the Mercury representing the policy of its State, the South Carolina deputation here has taken an active and prominent part in the very action of the Congress with which it finds fault. It may be added that at no steps which this Congress had taken has the influence of South Carolina failed to the side of moderation, prudence and wise statesmanship."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Where Has the Time Gone?

Less than half a score years ago, I brought forth onto this platform a new blog, conceived in curiosity and dedicated to the proposition that blogging was a worthy experiment.

Now I am engaged in a great continuation of this quest...

Well, enough of that, but I do wish to take a moment or two to note that yesterday, June 19, marked the seventh anniversary of My Civil War Obsession - the blog if not the actual passion. I had hoped to discuss this milestone then, but just did not get it finished in time. Oh well.

Anyway, I find it both hard to believe I have kept this up so long, and, strangely, not so hard to believe. "Time flies when you're having fun," supposedly, and the last seven years do seem to have flown by, at least in retrospect, which is, of course, the perspective a history blogger most often takes. 

A lot has happened since I started this blog. I have continued to volunteer as a board member at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum, even having served as President a couple of times. I have talked on behalf of the museum, represented it at events, and have met many interesting people, holding more than a few fascinating conversations. I have made good friends through the museum, and, unfortunately have lost a few, especially Bob Clements, whose enthusiasm for the museum is something I can never match. He showed me that you can collect Civil War items on a normal budget and my current collection, from which I've found several topics for this blog, is largely due to his influence. He has been gone for almost four years but even Saturday at Roeblingfest, two different people stopped by the museum's table and talked about missing him. RIP, Bob. (As I type this entry, I checked my email and learned that another long-time museum volunteer and history enthusiast, Bill, passed away today. I just saw and spoke to him last Sunday. I am sad.) 

I have also started serving on the board of the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society and though that is not a direct Civil War group, it has allowed me to do some research into the war in this county and write a couple of newsletter articles, though more research remains in front of me.

I also volunteered at Perryville's reenactment in 2012, the 150th anniversary of the battle. That was fun, and I never will forget a couple of experiences there. One morning they had a "sunrise battle." I could not see it as I was helping register reenactors, but they were just trickling in at that point. My volunteer partner soon called me outside the building and from there, across the road, we could hear the sounds of the "battle" starting -the bugles and fife, the drums and, soon, musket and cannon fire. None of this was in eyesight, but was plain to the ear. It was really fascinating and it almost felt like we were civilians during the war, wondering what was happening, full of uncertainty. I don't know if I can find the words to describe it any better. Goosebumps. 

Later, during the main "battle," I was near the fighting in the cornfield, where the smell of the black powder from the reenactors' guns awed me. I have read about the sight and smell of smoke over a battlefield, but experiencing it, especially that unmistakable smell, was something special. It made everything seem so real. I was so lucky to be right there, right then, stuck in 1862, if even momentarily. 

During these seven years, I have had health issues, job issues and other life issues, of course, yet the Civil War has been a constant interest for me, my bookshelf serving as an anchor of hope and happiness.

One of my goals when starting this personal project was to increase my own learning and understanding of the war. I think that has been my best success of these years, as this site introduced me to the blogosphere. Concepts like historical memory, southern unionism, confederate history being different than southern history and others may have been topics I had encountered in my previous reading, but were not ones I recognized or specifically considered. Also, when writing sbout the Confederate army's opponent, should I call it the "Union" army or the "United States" army? Or just say "Federals?" Does it matter? That is one idea I had not pondered before this blog and my introduction to the blogosphere, which I found because I started this project. I now try to pay more attention to the words and phrases I chose to use.

This type of thinking is now more frequently present in my mind, and perhaps even my writing, especially when reading or writing about my native Kentucky or doing family research. My understanding of the Commonwealth's place in the war and the development of its post-war reputation and image has grown exponentially in the past seven years, at least somewhat because of books I've heard about in the blogging world. How did my slave-owning, Union-supporting family fit with this? Or did other ancestors differ?

now no longer think just about "concrete" parts of the war like battles, leaders and elections, but these more abstract concepts and ways of considering the war have helped me view this period differently. What happened during the war years is clearly important, but putting these events in perspective matters at least as much. I feel that part of my knowledge of the Civil War has grown.

Despite this viewpoint, I have also learned more "facts." For instance, and ironically, I had not heard of "Jubeteenth" before starting this blog, and though I'm still no military expert, I feel more confident when reading military studies now than I did previously. At least part of this is due to my trips to Perryville and walking around the battlefield, both on my own and for guided tours. Before the blog, I had not been to Perryville since 2000 or 2001, and never on my own. Since then, I have been there several times, once or twice per year except for 2015. 

Another example of learning was in my discovery of the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Cincinnati. Finding it after I had worked near it for years was a great surprise. It is a monument I have since visited several times. Doing research for a blog entry led me to find the statue and its fascinating history. 

As for the future, who knows? The blogosphere world may little note nor long remember what I do here, but at this point this blog is almost a selfish enterprise on my part. I do hope that I find and write at least some topics that catch the interests of other people, of course, but I'm not in this for page hits or shares. I need to continue growing and this platform has been a terrific vessel for that goal. 

As I go forward, continuing to write these entries, what will I learn next? I do think I need a better understanding of Reconstruction and the effects the war era produced, so I have purchased a couple books on those years. I will need to read those and see where they lead me and my studies. I am especially interested in seeing how the post-war years in "reconstructed" states compared to those in Kentucky, a southern-leaning state (at least late in and after the war) which was not subject to the terms of reconstruction, including Republican government and military occupation. 

I will still read and write more about "my" state, of course. I think my personal philosophy that "all history is local" is mostly an exaggeration and not literally true, so I try not to utter it often, but it seems to me there is at least a kernel of truth in it. At least there is to me, so reading more about Kentucky (a new book on the topic is due out in November, I believe) and more study and research of Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and my Civil War ancestors will be part of my continued obsession. I make no claims on bring a professional historian or teacher or anything of the sort. I am not beholden to any employer or institution, even the places for which I volunteer. 

After typing that last line, I do realize that I have an ethical responsibility tp  practice good history and help promote accuracy in the places where I volunteer. I cannot simply say anything I want to when representing a public history organization and should not do so when acting for myself. That would be irresponsible.  Perhaps my whole self-image as a practicer of history and public history is another topic for future thought. When with family or friends, I am often seen as the "history guy," a big fish in a small pond, but as I entered the blogging world, I found out I'm just a minnow in the ocean, one grain of sand in the Sahara. The knowledge of (and even moreso interest in) the Civil War is widespread and its online presence opened my eyes to how big the world truly is. My few hundred Civil War books seem impressive, at least until I see other private libraries that dwarf mine. It is a humbling, yet exciting, realization, to see so much Civil War discussion and knowledge to study and to contemplate if I can play some small role in that world.

I do like the idea of "being my own boss" on my blog. I can use this site to explore my own interests and perhaps experiment with posts or topics, as I wish. I do not need to comment on current events and controversies if I choose not to, letting the mudslinging occur elsewhere. I have frequently tried to create a new tag line for this site but I just cannot say it better than "exploring anything and everything that fascinates me about this war." It sums up my goal perfectly and is what I have done and hope to continue to do well into the future. 

As I conclude, I apologize for the length of my post. It was intended as a quick look back at the last seven years, but quickly became an enjoyable exploration of my past and future. Thank you for reading this entry and others. Here's to many, many more years of my civil war obsession.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review: Kentucky Confederates

Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War and the Jackson Purchase
By Berry Craig
Copyright 2014
University Press of Kentucky 

The latest book in my recent reading spree was another one focused on Kentucky, this time  specifically on how one region of the state had much stronger ties to the Confederacy than the rest of the Commonwealth. Having just read For Slavery and UnionI was fortunate to follow it with Kentucky Confederates, a book focusing on the loyalties of the Jackson Purchase in far southwestern Kentucky, but that inevitably touched on some of the issues that  contributed to Kentucky's post-war reputation.

Kentucky Confederates is not a book intended to discuss the state's Confederate image. Its goal is to discuss the Jackson Purchase region of the state and how this region was easily the most pro-Confederate section of the state, particularly during the pre-war and early-war years, before many people in the rest of the state adopted similar attitudes as the Purchase residents. It certainly achieves this goal in a well-researched and written study that is very readable and informative. This is a valuable book on Kentucky history, especially of the Civil War era. 

Extant period sources such as letters and diaries from the area are scarce, but the author was able to uncover several of them. He also relied heavily on period newspapers from the region as well as from cities like Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati and New York to find details on various elections, rallies, speeches and other events in the area. He found many individual names, usually with information about the individual's hometowns or counties and where their loyalties were. He supplemented these sources with information from local and state historians as well as other secondary sources. Craig's efforts in finding so much information on a small portion of the state are very impressive. 

This is a fine book in many ways. It provides a great deal of information about the Jackson Purchase, opening my eyes to just how much support for the Confederacy existed in that region and how that region differed so much from the rest of the state, especially pre-emancipation. Much evidence showing the reality of such a difference fills this book. It also discusses the state's change in mood in the years following the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of African-American soldiers. Opposition to such enlistment was so strong that state officials did not even want the word "Kentucky" included in unit names of African-American regiments (and the Federal government obliged them on this request.) This was not the focus of the book, but was a natural and necessary addition to the main discussion. It gave similar insight as did For Slavery and Union, but added some different details and perspectives to what I had previously read. 

I also like that it includes several photographs of the men and places it discusses, adding an extra dimension to the narrative. Seeing faces to go with names can be a beneficial part of any book.

It is an easy-to-read book, with a nice, smooth flow, organized chronologically. Craig focuses on the political and social issues of the time, adding military information when necessary. It is not a detailed military history of the region, but does show how military events affected the hopes, desires and expectations of the Purchase's population, and vice-versa. 

At times some of the many details - lists of several names or multiple detailed election results - make those sections a bit tedious, but they are important as they provide details which strongly back up the author's thesis. Such details would also be very handy for genealogists or local historians, and they show the thoroughness of the author's research.

I do wish the book had included at least one map showing the counties, towns and rivers in the area, including Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri. 

A potentially interesting addition to this book might have been a quick discussion of Stephen Burbridge's role in the state in 1864 and how his "reign of terror" was similar to or affected Eleazar Paine's brief "reign of terror" in the Purchase region. Perhaps the author determined it would not be a good fit with the book's focus on the Purchase and would have distracted from his main goal.  

Despite those minor quibbles, I really enjoyed this book and learned quite a bit from it, including additional understanding of not only the Jackson Purchase, but of the state as a whole. Anyone interested in Kentucky history should read this book and the story it tells. Others who enjoy the Civil War, especially topics like the "border states" or the " Western Theater" can also gain valuable perspectives from this work. It is simply a good, informative book with a unique perspective on Kentucky and Kentuckians, showing how the population of one part of Civil War Kentucky was far more southern-leaning than the citizens of most other areas of the state. I gladly recommend Kentucky Confederates

Monday, June 6, 2016

Should Louisville Replace the Confederate Statue with One of Muhammad Ali?


With the recent death of legendary boxer (and Kentuckian) Muhammad Ali, at least one person has suggested that a statue of Ali replace the Confederate statue that the city is removing from the University of Louisville's campus.

At first glance, it sounds like a simple, straight-forward idea. Ali was born in Louisville, had a legendary career as one of the best boxers ever, perhaps even "The Greatest" as he claimed, had a larger-than-life persona and was one of the most famous people on the planet over the past four or five decades. He won an Olympic Gold medal and three professional championships in the glorious heavyweight division when boxing was extremely popular. He worked as a social activist and has been seen as an icon for African-American athletes.  

The Confederate statue, meanwhile, can be viewed as a relic from the distant past, commemorating a long-dead attempted revolution and people who are long gone from the realm of the living. It may not be an appropriate fit in today's world and political and social culture.

I, however, am generally not a supporter of removing all Confederate symbols, especially in this state whose post-war legacy was so complicated and so tied to a Confederate culture. Monuments like this tell an important tale of state history that people should understand and removing such monuments may leave the impression that such Confederate ties did not exist. They did exist and were very real throughout the state - this statue is more than a story in a history book, it is physical evidence of that history and cannot deliver such a message if it is hidden from view.

I intend this post, however, to focus not on the issues of this statue's removal since it seems to be a done deal, but, instead, on the suggestion of a possible replacement for it

As listed above, there are many good reasons to commemorate Ali, perhaps more than I can recall. Ali, however, was not perfect or immune from controversies or struggles. He was very human, with a legacy of positives and negatives. He publicly converted to Islam and even changed his name; this occurred in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and Ali was Aftican-American, making his decisions even more unpopular. He later refused induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, serving time in jail and giving up his heavyweight boxing championship, stirring more controversy and making his name even more well-known, villainous to some, heroic to others. In the last years of his life, he fought against Parkinson's Disease, but continued to make public appearances even when his health was not the greatest. When his life ended, he was a popular, even beloved, figure who had mostly overcome the controversies of the past in the public's mind.

It overall may be fair to say that if anyone in Kentucky over the last fifty or one hundred years deserves a statue in such a public setting, it would be hard to find a better candidate than Muhammad Ali, warts and all. His life was a complicated one, perhaps an appropriate representative of a complicated world. 

With that said, I do have a series of thoughts and questions about the idea of a statue in his honor.

1. Would the statue be of Ali the man, or of Ali the hero? Would it be life-sized or a colossus meant to awe viewers?

2. What image of him or what pose would be used? Would it be the famous photograph of him looking down at Sonny Liston in the boxing ring, as I included at the start of this post? Or would the preference be to use an image of him in a more peaceful pose? Like the "Elvis postage stamp debate," would it feature the younger Ali or older Ali? 

3. What part of his life would a monument represent? Would it focus solely on his boxing career, leaving out so much else? Or would it include his outside the ring activities? Would it (signage or plaques associated with the statue) discuss his name change and religious conversion, not to mention his association with a sect that is considered a "hate group?" Would it tell about his Olympic gold medal and, if so, would it include the story of him throwing the medal into the Ohio River? 

If it served as a commemoration of his entire life, would it focus only on objective factual statements (perhaps "he objected to enlistment in the army and spent time in jail") or would it use flowery language to show him in a more positive light (such as "he sacrificed his championship status and years of his career to bravely stand up for his beliefs by refusing military induction.")?

4. Would his post-boxing life be included? If so, would that describe just his charitable activities and the awards and honors he received, or would his Parkinson's Disease be part of it? If the latter, how do you frame it - simply state he had that disease or word it more like "he courageously battled Parkinson's Disease for over thirty years" to sharpen his image as a brave hero?

5. In other words, would a statue or monument be created to tell his whole story or just part of it? Would its purpose be one of objectivity or, as with most monuments, hero worship? Would the controversies in his life be fully disclosed, partially mentioned or totally ignored?

This country has recently been going through a discussion of monuments and symbols from years or decades ago and one thought I've frequently seen is that "these monuments tell us as much about the people who erected them (and their times) as about the monument's actual subject." If so, won't any monument that our generation creates say something about us? What do we want that message to be? Should we consider that when creating a statue or memorial, or just wait and let future history decide at the appropriate time? The world may "little note nor long remember" our day-to-day activities, but monuments of granite or other such material do last for a long time. Should we care? Is thinking about questions like this a good use of time and energy or is it an act of pretentiousness, as if what the future thinks of us should matter? 

What if the future earth ends up like that of Star Trek or of John Lennon's Imagine - full of peace, racial harmony, prosperity, and "no religion too?" Will people of such a generation appreciate an image of a man who was famous for punching others, trying to knock them out, and for a public religious conversion and association with the Nation of Islam, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group? Or what other changes will create a different cultural feel in the distant future? 

An Ali statue might be "politically correct" now, especially compared to Confederate iconography that currently is not though it once was acceptable to most of society, but it may not be so in 100+ years. Times and sensitivities will change again, like they have since many of the Confederate symbols were created. Is that a consideration in creating a new monument or does our inability to predict the future render that question irrelevant? Should we worry only about our own current beliefs and standards - which we can control - or do unknown future opinions matter? If we build such a memorial, is it for us or for our decndants?

Also, perhaps the key questions which might need answering on this topic include who controls or owns "our" memory of Muhammad Ali and who decides how to commemorate his life? A local committee? A public opinion poll? The artist who wins the commission? The person or group who finances the project? These are the types of questions that my series on George Barnard's Abraham Lincoln statue evoked last year, as this is a similar situation, though in foresight not hindsight. 

Resolving these issues will possibly lead to us knowing how people of our era will answer many of the previous questions I posed. 

Anyway, this started out as a brief post about the idea of a Muhammad Ali statue, but ended up being longer than I expected. It is not a pure "Civil War" post, but historical memory is a concept I have discovered since joining the blogosphere and this topic fits that niche, with the tie to the Confederate statue and its removal, so I think it is appropriate for this blog and worthy of some thought. Perhaps I have overdone it and given too much thought to hypotheticals, but I have enjoyed this little exercise. 


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Book Event: Wild Wolf and the Great Rivalry of the Civil War

On June 12, the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum where I volunteer will proudly host the following  event. Please see our press release and publicity information provided by the publisher. 


RON BLAIR and his new book:  Wild Wolf—The Great Civil War Rivalry
JUNE 12, 2016; 1:00 PM
Entry Fee is $5 ($4 for Museum Members)

The book provides an in-depth look at the rise and fall of one of Kentucky’s greatest cavalry commanders, and helps the reader understand the volatile political atmosphere in Kentucky during 1864-65, during which time Wolford was arrested for speaking out against the policies of President Abraham Lincoln.

Our basement book sale will also be open from 12:00 to 5:00
The Basement Book Sale features over 1,000 non-fiction Civil War histories, biographies, and other military books. We also have classic fiction and historical fiction books. Cash or Check only please!

Questions call Kathleen Romero 859-331-2499



Synopsis: “Wild Wolf and the Great Rivalry of the Civil War”
Biography of Col. Frank Lane Wolford, Cavalry Commander of the First Kentucky 
Author: Ronald Wolford Blair 
 Today, only a few scholars are familiar with the name Col. Frank Lane Wolford. However, 150 years ago this man was nationally known and in powerful oration, perhaps unwittingly, nearly changed the face of this country. 

 He had high cheekbones, an eagle like beak of a nose, his hair was black as coal, and he had piercing gray eyes. He had the stature and the resemblance of a wise Cherokee Chief. He was five feet eleven inches tall and 180 pounds and at the age of 47 he had a powerful build. Wounded seven times he fought in over 300 battles and skirmishes. He was deeply loved and respected by his men and was known for his generosity. Some “red tape” Union military leaders considered his style too independent and irregular. The Wild Riders, many of them wild mountain men themselves, understood his homespun commands and obeyed him. His antithesis, the aristocratic rebel raider, John Hunt Morgan considered “Wild Wolf” the most feared and most dreaded Union Cavalry Commander to meet on the field of battle. Strangely, they had a deep respect for each other. Both Cavalry Commanders were proud of their fine spirited Kentucky steeds. 

Both Kentucky regiments were known for being hard riding and daring Cavaliers. Wolford’s Cavalry was famously known for riding the finest thoroughbred mounts in the Bluegrass. During the “Lebanon Races” and “The Great Chase” both man and beast were challenged for stamina and endurance. 

Most every Civil War engagement in Kentucky and in the mountains of East Tennessee are detailed in this nearly 500 page book, including 120 maps and illustrations. This is a story about Wolford’s military and political rivalry during the war and his political rivalry that continued post-war. The First Kentucky Cavalry was the oldest Union Kentucky Cavalry in the war. 

 On March 10, 1864, in front of a packed audience at the Melodeon Hall in Lexington, the battle scarred warrior, lawyer, and politician, Colonel Wolford, commander of the First Kentucky Cavalry, stepped onto the dais to accept a jeweled sword. Distinguished Kentuckians, including Governor Bramlette were present to honor Wolford for his patriotic war effort, and especially for his role in capturing his nemesis, Morgan after the 1,000 mile Great Chase. 

But after accepting the sword the Kentucky Colonel grasped the opportunity to launch a lengthy diatribe condemning the Lincoln Administration over black enlistment and civil rights violations. The majority of Kentucky white citizens were exasperated at the thought of arming former slaves but most feared arrest or death if they dared open protest. Largely influenced by Wolford’s bold protests, Kentucky strongly considered a war against the federal government. This could have changed the political environment given the fact that it was a presidential election year. 

If Kentucky had left the Union in early 1864 the voters might have moved more toward compromise. Wolford was the presidential elector for Kentucky representing Lincoln’s opponent McClellan. Lincoln had Wolford arrested and brought before him in Washington. This work covers Wolford’s life during the entire Civil War. 

The “Wild Wolf” story has a lovely ending. The author is the great-great nephew of Col. Wolford. Ronald Wolford Blair was a contributing author of “Kentucky’s Civil War 1861-1865” that won a Governor’s Award and also contributed to “Kentucky Rising” by Dr. James A. Ramage and Andrea S. Watkins. Blair has been published in several magazines and newspapers, contributed to scholarly publications, and has lectured at various Civil War round tables and Historical Societies. 


Comments from James C. Klotter, Kentucky State Historian and Professor of History, Georgetown College 

Ronald Wolford Blair has rescued from the dim mists of almost forgotten history, the career of a soldier who has deserved more than history has given him. Colonel Frank Wolford, commander of the Wild  Riders of the Union First Kentucky Cavalry, fought bravely across the South and, most famously, he and his men had a long-running rivalry with fellow Kentuckian John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate 
raiders. During the conflict, each man, in fact, captured the other. But this is more than a military tale of heroism. It is also an account of the struggles of a Kentucky that wanted both union and slavery. When the controversial Wolford could not reconcile those two as the war went on and spoke out against the administration, he would be arrested, dismissed from the service, and briefly imprisoned. Later he would serve in Congress. Solidly researched, well illustrated, and clearly written, Wild Wolf reminds us, once again, that many important lives have too long remained untold and have just needed someone to chronicle them. At last, one of those exciting and significant stories has been told. Wolford has found his biographer. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

1883 Letter Mentions Perryville

In hindsight, perhaps I should have completed this before my trip to the battlefield last Saturday, but it still is worth sharing now.

This is a neat post-war letter. It is from 1883 and mentions something that happened shortly before the battle at Perryville. Even though it does not add anything about the actual fighting, I think it is rather interesting. The fact that it mentions the U.S. Army impressing a wagon from an African-American is also fascinating. Seeing the lawyer refer to him as a hard working "negro" instead of a hard working "man" is noteworthy and rather symbolic of the times. 

Following are a picture of the letter, my attempt to transcribe it, and a few brief notes I made about it. There was one word I could not definitely read, so I marked it with a question mark and parenthesis. 

I do wonder if there was any resolution to this issue and if Mr. Drew received any compensation.

Louisville August 19th 1883 

Col. Bingham
Dear Sir:

When Buell’s army was leaving Louisville just prior to the Battle of Perryville, I understand that you, then a quartermaster in Gen. Sill’s division, or at (rate?) being with them on the Louisville & Shelbyville Pike, impressed a wagon belonging to a negro named Geo. Drew. Said wagon has never been returned to him, nor has he even recd any pay for same. You gave him a receipt for it at the time which was forwarded by Capt. Semple of Genl. Boyle’s staff to the Headquarters of Genl. Rosecrans, in order that you might return the proper vouchers. It was never heard from. You will obige (sic) me very much if you forward proper vouchers so that Drew, who is a hard working negro, may draw his pay for the wagon. If you have forgotten the circumstances, I will get the testimony of Capt. Semple, who saw & read the receipts. An early answer will oblige.

Yours respectfully,
Jack Fay,
Atty at Law
Louisville, Ky

George B. Bingham was Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Wisconsin, which fought on Starkweather's Hill at Perryville.

The African-American, George Drew, is a bit more mysterious. I found two possibilities for him on the 1880 census. One shows him as a 70 year-old farmer in Shelby County, Kentucky, near the location mentioned in the letter. I suspect that is the man, but the same census shows a man by the same name in Louisville. This man was just 35 years-old, probably too young to be the man who loaned the    wagon 18 years before that census. Perhaps further research will turn up more information on George

The letter also refers to General Joshua SillGeneral Jeremiah Boyle, and General William Rosecrans. I suspect the mention of Rosecrans instead of General Don Carlos Buell was a mistake by the writer twenty-one years after the fact, since Rosecrans did not replace Buell until two weeks after the battle.

Captain Semple may have been John L. Semple of the 103rd Ohio Infantry Regiment, which apparently was around central Kentucky at this time.