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

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