Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Books about Kentucky Civil War Politics and Reputation

Over the years, I have read a few books on Kentucky in the Civil War and found that several of them focused on politics and social attitudes as much, or more than, pure military topics. This topic - Kentucky politics and the state’s Confederate image - has become a strong interest for me as I find it to be a complicated, confusing, and, yet, fascinating subject. It currently is one of my main interests in the Civil War.

I do not have any specific family or genealogical connections to the topic, but I had many ancestors in the state during this era, and I do wonder what their life was like or what their beliefs were. At least one of my Kentucky ancestors owned slaves but had a son and multiple grandsons fight for the Union. Did this family’s attitude shift like those of many other Kentuckians as the war progressed and Emancipation and the enlistment of African-American soldiers became realities? Did any of my other ancestors change views during this time? Questions like that help guide me in the direction of such studies. 

I figured I would compile this list in a post and perhaps soon on a separate page. This will help remind me of these books in case I want to look something up and might help others find some interesting reading as I truly enjoyed each of these works. This list is in no particular order, other than how I remembered or thought of them when compiling this post.

Pre-War: 
Kentucky Rising: Democracy, Slavery, and Culture From the Early Republic to the Civil War by James Ramage and Andrea Watkins. (I consider it to be a good “prequel” to the books listed below and wish I had read it before the others.)

War and Post-War:
Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana & Harrison County by William Penn


Wild Wolf: The Great Civil War Rivalry by Ronald Wolford Blair





(Kentucky politics is not a main focus of Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally, but it does touch on the topic and Holt’s life story serve as a wonderful example of how this state’s mixed political identity, especially late in and after the war, affected individual lives and families. How many other books are like that - not primarily concentrating on the political climate of the state, but nonetheless discussing it in terms of how it relates to their main subjects?)

The links are all to my reviews, except for Kentucky Rising. I wrote a long review of it, but accidentally hit the delete button and lost it all and was too frustrated to redo it, so that link is simply to the book’s amazon.com page.

I do realize there are likely many books I have not read or even heard of on this subject, so I will appreciate any suggestions in the future.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Thoughts on 2018 Cynthiana Re-enactment

I spent this most recent Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2, down in Cynthiana, helping prepare and set-up for the re-enactment at Ashford Acres Estate. I  did not make it back for Sunday, but still enjoyed the event and seeing some of the work that goes on behind the scenes of something like this.

I helped with a few of the necessary steps for the event. I assisted in putting up a tent fly for the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation went on a run to get another water hose to help provide water for the horses and helped put stakes in the ground to mark the spectator’s line. Glamorous and glorious, it was not. 

I also registered some of the re-enactors as they arrived, making sure they signed waivers and had the necessary information for the weekend. The next morning, I sat in the parking lot where I accepted admission fees from guests and handed out event schedules and parking passes. This was not hard work, though sitting in the sun for a few hours on a beautiful, sunny morning left my neck feeling quite warm and perhaps a bit burned, though not too badly. I did a few other tasks, some smaller than others, to help, but also noticed several other volunteers helping out with similar duties. I know there was a lot of work done before this weekend to find re-enactors, secure a location and a parking shuttle for the weekend, and take care of many other details to help the weekend run smoothly, but quite a bit of work remained for the weekend and it was a great group of volunteers who accomplished it.

I hope anyone who attends a re-enactment, Civil War Weekend or other similar event will appreciate the work required to put on such a display. Please realize that many, perhaps most, of these are the work of volunteers doing this for their own personal motivation, but certainly not for money or attention. Personally, I love the Civil War and being part of bringing something like this together satisfies me and helps me feel I am somehow contributing to the continued study and interest in this fascinating period of history. Volunteering, along with maintaining this blog, are my ways of attempting to contribute positively to something I love. I suspect other volunteers have similar feelings, as well as a sense of civic duty or pride. Like the discussion of why soldiers chose to fight in the war, there are as probably as many reasons for volunteering as there are volunteers.

I missed the cavalry and infantry demonstrations Saturday morning, but did get to see most of the battle. It was fun to watch, and like Perryville 2012, the wind blew in the right direction to let me get a strong whiff of black powder. That certainly added a sense of reality to it. I was also impressed with how the horses did not let the musket fire bother them. Obviously the re-enactors had done a good job of training their animals and their horsemanship appeared very strong to my amateur eyes, but I still like giving the horses some credit.

Overall, the weekend went well. A brief drizzle showed up on Friday, but Saturday was virtually perfect in terms of weather, and Sunday seemed to be similar. Somewhere between 100 and 200 re-enactors showed up, and the crowd was a few hundred strong on Saturday. Perhaps there could have been more advertising and promotion, but my impression was that it was a success. 

 I was not as close to the “action” as I hoped,  and I had forgotten my camera, so I relied on my phone for some pictures. My photos of the battle were not my best ever, but I did get some nice ones of the encampment and will share some of them here. 
















Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book Review: Reconstruction: A Concise History


Reconstruction: A Concise History
By Allen C. Guelzo
Copyright 2018
Oxford University Press

Over the years, I have read many books about the Civil War, but not nearly as many about Reconstruction. I acknowledge that I probably should learn more about the period after the war, so I have found and acquired a few books on this era. The first I decided to read is Allen Guelzo’s Reconstruction: A Concise History

This is a fine book, and certainly is concise, with only 130 pages, plus a timeline. Brevity, however, does not equate to quality, as this is an enjoyable and well-written introduction to the subject at hand.

This book has seven chapters and an epilogue, each almost like its own story, concentrating on a single main issue of Reconstruction. This organization is most appropriate for this book and adds to its effectiveness.

Some of the major discussions of this discussion include: Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction vs. Congressional Reconstruction, white supremacy groups resisting the federal government’s plans, U.S. Grant’s presidency, and the Supreme Court’s intrusion into Reconstruction. Infighting and political inexperience among the Republicans and even African-Americans were also factors that hindered Reconstruction from realizing its full potential.

Guelzo claims that saying “Reconstruction failed” is an oversimplification as it did have some successes, or at least half-successes, such as reuniting the nation and ending legalized slavery. He also claims it did not fail as much as it was overthrown by a combination of white Southerners and Northern Democrats. His description of this conspiracy reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s pre-Civil War talk of a “slave power” that had conspired to spread the influence of that peculiar institution. How accurate that comparison is will be something I need to study and ponder a bit more, but I appreciate that this work brought such a question to my mind. Good books have such effects.

For anyone familiar with Reconstruction, this book can serve as a brief review of that period, but it would be more effective for those just starting to learn about the post-Civil War era and wanting to get a quick overview, perhaps with the hope of figuring out what aspects of Reconstruction might be of particular interest. It is not a long book, nor a detailed look at its subject, but those were not its purposes. It is meant as a concise look at Reconstruction and it certainly meets that goal in well-written, easy-to-read volume. I am glad to have read this book and now to recommend it to others who may want to brush up on their knowledge of this era in United States history. 

I thank Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of this book. I have done my best to be completely honest in this review

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Book Review: Basil Wilson Duke, C.S.A.: The Right Man in the Right Place


Basil Wilson Duke, C.S.A. : The Right Man in the Right Place
Author: Gary Robert Matthews
University Press of Kentucky
Copyright 2005

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with a fellow Civil War enthusiast and the topic turned to John Hunt Morgan and some of his exploits. After a few minutes, the name Basil Duke came up and I admitted I did not know a lot about him. My friend told me that he was the brains behind Morgan’s operation, that Morgan was the famous one, with personality and charisma to attract others to his side, while Duke worked on strategy and training and disciplining the men Morgan attracted. 

As he said this, I recalled that I had a book about Duke in my “to be read” collection of Civil War books and I decided to read it. It turned out to be Matthews’ work, and I am glad that was the case.

Basil Wilson Duke: CSA is a terrific biography of a fascinating man. The writing is easy to read, with a very smooth flow and style, and it makes this work a quick read as well.

Of course, part of the reason this book is a fine read is the subject himself. Basil Duke was a native Kentuckian, born with good family connections, intellectual curiosity and a variety of talents.

This book starts with an exploration of Duke’s family background, his youth and education, as well as his pre-Civil War career. It tells of his early war days in Missouri, learning ideas and techniques that he would use when he joined his brother-in-law’s cavalry unit. This background is an important part of this work, setting the stage for the rest of Duke’s career and life.

It continues by describing Duke’s adventures with Morgan’s command through several raids, showing how Duke’s strategies and handling of the troops helped Morgan achieve frequent success, and then goes into detail about Duke’s time as a prisoner-of-war. Being away from his wife and children was something that bothered Duke, especially during his time as a prisoner, when receiving letters from loved ones was difficult. The idea of Duke missing his family is one that appears often throughout the book. 

Duke’s prison time also was a major factor for Morgan, who missed the knowledge, decision-making, and discipline Duke provided. Morgan’s soldiers were not as good or as disciplined fighters as in previous years and this combined with Duke’s absence to doom Morgan’s 1864 “ Final Raid.”

When Duke finally got out of prison, much had changed. Morgan was dead and Duke soon became a General in charge of Morgan’s former command. Duke also recognized that the future of the Southern cause did not appear promising.

Matthews does a fine job of describing how Duke faced the end of the Confederacy, including Duke’s time with the party accompanying Jefferson Davis to Georgia. Duke helped convince Davis that guerilla war was a bad idea and he also accepted the difficult task of guarding the remaining Confederate gold as Davis and other leaders continued to flee.

Duke’s transition into the post-war era is another valuable section of this book. He lived for more than 50 years after the Confederacy ceased to exist and never was the wealthy Southern gentlemen of the common stereotypes of former Confederate leaders. Duke held several different position to make ends meet, including jobs incotton sales, writing and editing books and magazines and renewing his pre-war career as a lawyer. He became involved with a building and loan company, but a national financial panic struck at a bad time for him. He also held political office and his legal experience helped gain him work with the L&N Railroad. 

Each chapter of his post-war life receives plenty of attention in this work, even when several overlap, which they frequently did. This last part of the biography is especially fascinating, showing how a man who strongly believed in the Confederate cause could adjust to a new world, as Duke accepted the need for national reconciliation as a means of helping his beloved region recover from the war. Duke changed careers and even adapted his political views as he saw the world, the political parties and life evolve. He was a modest man, but not afraid of change or of trying something new, again perhaps different from the stereotype of the overly proud and stubborn Southern gentleman.

Matthews did not deeply explore Duke’s feelings towards African-Americans, though he makes it clear that Duke supported slavery, opposed the Reconstruction Amendments and favored the “Lost Cause” view of the war. Like many people of the era, he viewed the reunion of the country as a necessary step, but protecting or expanding the rights of freedpeople was not a consideration for him. He was a product of his times and upbringing in this regard.

Duke’s friendship with Theodore Roosevelt - who appointed the General as a Commissioner of Shiloh National Military Park - serves as one more interesting subject of this book, reminding me a bit of the post-war life of John Mosby. On the other hand, his bitter opposition with Kentucky politician William Goebel, a fierce opponent of the L&N Railroad, is also an informative story and look into Kentucky politics around the start of the twentieth century.

Duke also worked in the field of history, being among the group that founded what is today the Filson Historical Society, one of the best-known historical groups in Kentucky, and some of his writings are among the first and most intimate looks into Morgan’s cavalry, another important contribution to the study of Civil War and Kentucky history.

Like many biographies, this book does offer a mostly positive interpretation of its subject, but does so based on a lot of research and with many sources supporting the author’s conclusions, especially his claims of Duke’s importance to the success Morgan and his men achieved. 

It was not all praise, however, as Matthews did point out times when Duke was less than perfect, such as at the end of the 1863 raid when neither Morgan nor Duke took enough security precautions at night, probably due to fatigue and perhaps a bit of overconfidence.

This work contains several helpful photographs and maps. The author also succeeded in keeping the focus of the text on Duke and not Morgan. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of writing much about the more famous chieftain, especially his1864 raid without Duke, but Matthews smartly avoided that mistake.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable and informative book about an often overlooked soldier and Kentuckian, a modest man who found crucial roles to play during and after the Civil War. The story of Basil Duke remains an important one for students of the Civil War, especially the western theater, John Hunt Morgan and the operations of cavalry raiders, as well as to students of Kentucky history. Basil Duke was a talented man, one who used his skills in many different manners, both as a soldier and a civilian.

I gladly recommend this fine book.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

O Captain, My Captain

I do not read much poetry, but I do re-read this poem every year




O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead. 




Wednesday, March 28, 2018

An Interesting Project That Needs Some Help

I just found this project linked on twitter and think it sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. It might be nice to make a contribution to something important like this.

I’ve looked at compiled service records for soldiers on several posts for this blog and other writing projects, so I know the writing can be tough to read, but they often include a lot of interesting information on them and who knows what kind of stories I might stumble across while working on this? Even if I do not find any stories to write about, helping compile this information about African-American soldiers appeals to me. 

 I have signed up for it and started working on it. It is a bit tough to do on my tablet, but I have gotten a few done, and will try to do more on my laptop. I think it will be fun and it will feel good to help with this. This is a good Civil War project, so why not try to help it? 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Civil War Park Day

Saturday April 7 - two weeks from today -  is the date for this year's Civil War Trust Park Day, a day for volunteers to help local Civil War sites do some spring cleaning. It is a great idea, one I am proud to have helped with at the Ramage Museum in recent years.  I will be there again this year, though the unfortunate thing is that its Park Day work is taking place at the same time as the work by the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation work in Cynthiana. Unfortunately, I can be at only one place at a time, as I would like to help both sites out, since both mean so much to me.

The Friends of Perryville will be working on that beautiful battlefield the same day and the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table will be helping at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Cincinnati. All of these are wonderful opportunities for people to help pick up litter, pull weeds, or do other general cleaning and beautification projects at these wonderful sites.

The link in the first line will help you find participating locations close to you and I hope some readers of this will take advantage of this opportunity to help. Find a location near you and ask them how you can help. Many sites rely on volunteers, even ones that are state parks or historic sites, and this type of help and work is very valuable.

Money is not always readily available these days, so for people who cannot make monetary donations, giving time and a little bit of work can be a good way to contribute to a local historic Civil War site. The people at those sites will truly appreciate your assistance and even if the general public does not see you doing the work, the cleanliness and attractiveness of the location will be visible throughout the year. Your work will be noticed and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to a good, worthy cause.