Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: Creating a Confederate Kentucky, by Anne Marshall

author: Anne Marshall
copyright 2010
University of North Carolina Press

This may be one of the tougher book reviews I have ever attempted, simply because I do not want it to come across as hagiography, yet I enjoyed it and learned so much from it, I am afraid that is what this review may appear to be. With that out of the way, here I go.

"Image is everything" became a popular marketing slogan in the early 1990's and has remained popular.  It is often used to ridicule people or products that seem to rely on looks or packaging rather than talent or production, and is generally not intended to be complimentary, but for this review I use it to mean exactly what it says, with no disrespect intended.

In Anne Marshall's book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State, "image is everything" aptly describes Kentucky's ties to the Confederacy in the post-war years. Marshall shows  how Kentucky's identity as a "Confederate" state blossomed, starting soon after the end of the Civil War (being planted during the war itself) and persisted for decades after the war ended.

She begins by stating in the introduction: "it is important to understand that Kentucky was, before, during and after the Civil War, a southern state." (page 4). I have seen other views on that subject, usually regarding modern-day Kentucky,  but that is the position she takes for this book and it is difficult to argue against her claim, given the evidence that follows throughout the book.

In the first chapter, she discusses the debate in the state about how to proceed once the war started, and shows that emancipation - followed by the enlistment of African-Americans into the Union army - left many Kentuckians feeling upset, even betrayed.  They had supported the Union to keep the country whole, and expected the government to protect them and their property in return.

Additionally, this chapter points out that some Union policies were very harsh, and Marshall even used the term "police state" to describe it; this type of environment clearly did not endear people to the government.

A third intriguing point from this chapter is that the people who supported the Union cause often belonged to the older generation, while the younger citizens often supported the Confederates.  This concept is very logical regarding the long-term implications of Kentucky's image, as the older generation would naturally start losing positions of influence and passing away and the next generation would assumed these leadership roles. I wish there were statistics or a demographic study to show how true this thought really was.

The second chapter looks into Kentucky politics in the years immediately after the war, showing how the conservative Democratic party quickly gained control. Much of the control of this party fell into the hands of former Confederates, but many Union men, upset by emancipation and the arming of African-Americans, also joined this party. Keeping white control of the state was an important element of this political atmosphere, appealing to both former Confederates and former Union men.The lack of Reconstruction policies being forced upon the state benefited this conservative element also.

Chapter three contains a terrific discussion of the lawlessness that was common throughout Kentucky in the postwar years. Much of the violence was against African-Americans, including lynchings, as well as against those who tried to hire the former slaves and other free African-Americans or who otherwise publicly supported Republican positions.  Like the political situation, this appeared to outsiders to be very similar to life in the deep south in prewar years, adding another block in the creation of a Confederate image for Kentucky.

In chapter four, Marshall discusses "memorial activity" in the state from the end of the war through 1895. This chapter shows how Confederate supporters and groups were more active, aggressive and successful in portraying and sharing their memories of the war than were their Union counterparts. She also describes the valuable role women and woman's groups played in shaping post-war memory and perception, another fascinating point.

African-Americans attempted to participate in such memorial experiences also. In 1883, a large convention of African-Americans met in Louisville, with Frederick Douglass serving as chairman and making an impassioned plea on behalf of his people. Reaction was quite mixed, with some moderates trying to show the conference in positive terms, while a more conservative element was not so kind.

Chapter 5 explores the Appalachian region of Kentucky and the images that developed around it. The chapter describes the concept of "two Kentuckies" - Appalachia and everywhere else - that formed during the postwar years and how popular literature and public speakers contributed to the mountainous region's image of being a stronghold of Union support.This image was not totally true, and Marshall also demonstrates that people in the rest of Kentucky used the violence present in the mountains to take attention away from the lawlessness in the rest of the state.

The next chapter is entitled "Literature, Confederate Identity and Kentucky's Reputation, 1890-1915" and shows how many popular writers used Kentucky as the location of their stories.  Authors like Annie Fellows Johnston and others authored popular books with Confederate themes and Kentucky settings. This chapter may be where the "image is everything" theme is most obvious, as these literary works, despite being fictional, still affected how people around the country viewed Kentucky and its people.

The final chapter of the book, chapter 7,  returns to a discussion of the issues of monuments and physical representations of the memories of the war, this time focusing on the period form 1895 to 1935. By this time a spirit of reconciliation had become much more widespread than immediately after the war, yet it was still the Confederate supporters who took the lead in erecting monuments honoring their perceptions and memories, sometimes with the support of Union veterans. The 1895 GAR encampment, held not far from a large Confederate monument, and with former Confederates being present throughout the city, serves as one example.

Still, race was a huge concern, and pages 170 and 171 introduce the "Uncle Tom's Cabin Law" which the state legislature passed to stop the showing of a version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, when members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy protested it as being a mistreatment of Kentucky's past, and, especially, of their memories of slavery.

That was just one way in which Kentucky state government contributed to the development of the Southern or Confederate image of the state. Marshall then offers other examples of such support, including ways the state helped finance some Confederate memorials.

The Afterword section shows that much of this Confederate identity started to weaken as time passed and that as the twenty-first century began different voices about the Civil War started to be more widespread and noticeable.  The celebration over the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth and other new trails, signs and markers are signs that Kentucky's Unionist heritage may be gaining more attention than in the past.

I cannot recommend this book enough. For anyone interested in Kentucky's history or reputation, or of the study and remembrance of the Civil War, it simply is a must read. I do not know how else to describe it.

It is also informative and enjoyable enough to benefit anyone interested in the Civil War. It is well-written, readable, includes end-notes and a long bibliography, and is full of information and perspectives about its subject. Anne Marshall clearly researched this material and analyzed her findings in a very in-depth fashion.

Creating a Confederate Kentucky is easily among the best books I have ever read and is nothing short of being absolutely remarkable. 

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