Symbols of Union

“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” Kentucky’s state motto could not have been more relevant than it was during the Civil War.

Stationery and business letterhead were popular ways to show loyalty to the Union.
This letterhead is from the 1st Harlan County Battalion.

http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-022-0055

This letterhead from Laurel County, KY, gives Lady Liberty an active, war-like representation, but it was on a letter written by a Justice of the Peace on behalf of someone who wished a fine to be remitted.

http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-029-0428

References to the Revolutionary War or words such as “Freedom,” “Union,” and “Liberty” helped Civil War-era people look back to their past to understand events and prove their loyalty in their present. This inspiring logo came from Wolfe County, Kentucky. http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-031-0067

This seal was on a letter sent from Louisville. Its rays symbolize all the states of the union, but the letter was sent in 1863, when the promise of a strong union was still years in the future.
 http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-029-0163

These documents all contain images, poems, or logos in their letterheads that demonstrate devotion to the Union through patriotic imagery during the Civil War in Kentucky. The content of the letters, however, are not always reflective of such high ideals!

“A little two much licker aboard”

Should a man be punished for socializing with friends and enjoying a bit of Kentucky hospitality while doing so? Moses Washburn, a Shelby County resident, thought not. 

In 1861, he wrote to the governor asking that his fine – for keeping a disorderly house – be lifted, stating that he was “raised up under the old hospitable habits of Kentucky,” and while he may have had “a little two much licker aboard,” he was only drinking with friends at home–“as he had a right to do.”

Man drinking from a bottle by a homemade moonshine still

He argues that he did not mean to cause a disturbance, but simply “has never joined the new fangled temporance society.”

More than 100 men signed his petition. Clearly, Washburn was not alone in his cultural understanding of hospitality.


See how Moses defended his hospitable rights.

“Our Neighbourhood Turnpikes”

In this season of highway construction hassles, we can at least be grateful that we are not personally called upon to fix the roads ourselves. In the years before a system of state-funded roads, individuals were responsible for maintaining physical infrastructure. Men owed days of road crew service to their county each year, and property owners were liable for keeping the roads on their land clear and passable. Private turnpike companies frequently built and maintained roads, charging carriages, wagons, and riders for their use.

The Civil War tore up both Kentucky roads and the funding systems that maintained them. Owners of the Stanford & Shelby’s Meeting House Turnpike Company, “a neighborhood road” in Lincoln County which “pays nothing to the stock holders,” were fined by a cash-strapped circuit court for failing to keep up their road. They successfully appealed to the governor that “it is impossible to keep the Roads in repair during their use by the Federal Wagons” hauling supplies to the front.

Infrastructure repair and upkeep continues to be a pertinent issue. Who should bear the repair costs after natural or human-made disasters?

Road scene, drawing by Samuel Kaighn ca. 1875.
Kaighn served as a surgeon during the Civil War.

As you can see from this letter of appeal, the governor agreed that they should not be responsible in this case.
http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-004-0069

“Delighted to Honor the National Banner”

A battle-torn Civil War flag tells a powerful story about the great sacrifices and the cost of preserving the United States.

Colors of the 22d Regiment Kentucky Infty after the charge on Chickasaw Bluffs near Vicksburg, Miss – December 29th, 1862.

Colonel George W. Monroe returned the battle flag of his 22nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry to the Commonwealth in 1864. “This Old flag is dear to us, for beneath its folds many of our brave comrades have fallen, and sealed their patriotism with their blood. It is dear to us for the victories won under it. It is dear to us because it has never yet been lowered before the enemy, and has never been polluted by traitor hands.”

The flags of the Kentucky regiments were hung in the capitol rotunda to remind legislators of the price of their freedom. When the new capitol was built in the 1900s, the flags stayed in the Old State Capitol and became the core of the Kentucky Historical Society’s museum collections.

This 242nd anniversary of the adoption of the Flag Resolution by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, is a fitting opportunity to read this letter, which eloquently expresses the emotions that may be evoked by this symbol of a nation that came so close to dissolution during the Civil War:
http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-003-0064