Political Detentions in the Civil War

Throughout January 2019 we shared a four part series discussing political detentions surrounding Kentuckians. In case you missed a week or are just stumbling upon the blog for the first time here are the direct links to the series.

“Nothing on the Books”: Political Detentions in the Civil War Part Four

This is the final installment of a four-part series

As residents of Kentucky were arrested for disloyalty and detained, often for several months, without being charged or tried in criminal court, one of the most protracted cases was that of Covington attorney James J. O’Hara Jr. In its contours, the story of O’Hara’s initial detention resembles the accounts of other political prisoners whose stories are preserved in the papers of Kentucky’s Civil War governors. O’Hara was arrested at his home on July 22, 1862, by the Covington provost marshal and jailed at the Newport Barracks for more than a week. He was not immediately able to ascertain the reason for his arrest—a disturbingly common complaint among civilian prisoners. On July 30, he was sent to Camp Chase, where his story took a decidedly different turn and where he wrote letters to a person he addressed as “My Dear,” who was probably his wife, Oberia.[1]

In his personal correspondence, James O’Hara wrote of financial matters, requested provisions, and expressed affection for friends and family. He warned his recipient, “You must not come here to see me as the authorities will not allow visitors within the prison.”[2] He learned this when a friend had come to Camp Chase with the young son of Thomas L. Jones—who had been arrested for making fiery anti-government speeches—and the visitors were turned away. When several of O’Hara’s fellow prisoners petitioned Beriah Magoffin, they complained of this rule and of the hardship of being separated from their families.[3] Although O’Hara was acquainted with James Robinson and other state officers, he advised his correspondent against trying to involve them in his case, writing in one letter, “I do not think it worth while for you to apply to my friends Davis, Robinson and Harlan or any others at present, although I have no doubt those named would do all in their joint power to secure my release.” In another, he wrote, “I know of nothing that can be done at present by friends out side to deliver me.”[4] When newspapers reported a Confederate advance into Kentucky, O’Hara instructed his recipient to seek the advice of friends on the safest course of action, as he could not be sufficiently informed to offer useful counsel.[5]

Not surprisingly, the status of O’Hara’s case was a recurring topic, especially the difficulty of learning the charges against him. He tried to project a positive attitude while also preparing his spouse for an incarceration that he predicted could last several weeks or months. “I do not expect that the process [of discharge] will be instantaneous,” O’Hara cautioned, but he affirmed that his release was “certain in the end, as I know that I am guilty of no offense against the law.” Prescribing a course for both himself and his spouse, O’Hara resolved, “I shall exercise the utmost degree of patience, and trust that you will not allow our separation to weigh heavily with you.”[6] Two weeks after he applied to learn the charges on which he had been arrested, he still had received no answer. “I do not understand why I am not gratified in that particular as others have been,” O’Hara lamented, but he supposed it was “inadvertence and not design” that kept him uninformed.[7] O’Hara hoped his recipient would not allow her “buoyancy of spirit for a moment to flag” and reassured her that he would face his fate “undaunted.”[8]  On August 21, three weeks after his arrival at Camp Chase, O’Hara reported that he had finally learned the reason for his arrest: “James O’Hara is charged with ‘being a rabid and dangerous rebel sympathizer.’ Has done ‘a great deal to aid the rebellion.’” He dismissed the allegations as unfounded. “Of Course there is nothing in these charges,” he assured his wife, and “there can be no difficulty about my release when the authorities can find the time to attend to our cases.” But he still had no idea when that might be.[9]

O’Hara may have downplayed the adversities of prison life so as not to worry his spouse.  He offered a more candid account in 1863, when he provided testimony to a select committee on military arrests appointed by the Ohio House of Representatives. He specifically noted that both prisoners of war and citizen prisoners were “badly clad, not having changes of clothing.” He observed that the citizens “seemed to have been brought there without suitable preparation for a long continuance away from their homes.” He also told of two young boys, whose ages he estimated to be between eight and twelve, who had been imprisoned along with their father. According to O’Hara, when the father was arrested, the boys had no one else to take care of them on the outside and the father requested they be kept together.[10]

If James O’Hara was as confident of his release as he claimed in his letters, it did not prevent him from pursuing a more clandestine path to secure his liberty. When he was presented an opportunity to escape the confines of Camp Chase, James O’Hara took his chance. He was informed of an arrangement in which one of the prison sentinels had agreed to allow the escape of eight to ten prisoners and was invited to join the group, which he later admitted, he was “entirely willing to do.”[11] By O’Hara’s account, the sentinel, who was bribed with a gold watch and about twenty dollars, removed a plank from the parapet, leaving an opening for the prisoners to escape. O’Hara filed out behind Hubbard D. Helm, the former sheriff of Newport, who had been arrested on July 18 and accused of “making the statement of being a secessionist.”[12] Helm and O’Hara ran about fifty yards before they were surrounded by forty to fifty soldiers and ordered back to the prison.[13] As punishment, O’Hara was locked in a structure known as “the dungeon,” probably so named for the light deprivation and physical discomfort it likely imposed on its occupants. By O’Hara’s account,

I was put into a dungeon constructed of boards, about four feet wide by eight feet long, with seven feet ceiling. The door closed tight, and was secured with a hasp and staple and ordinary padlock. For ventilation there were five inch and a quarter auger holes through the bottom, and a hole in the top five inches square. This was roofed over, and inclosed in a house or shed, one of a number of like description.[14]

He was kept in this cell from about 10 p.m. Saturday night to sometime Wednesday afternoon. The first night, he was not given any blankets and “suffered severely from cold.”[15] The other prisoners who followed Helm and O’Hara out of the camp had managed to return to their quarters when it was clear the escape had failed. Colonel C. W. B. Allison, the camp commander, tried to persuade O’Hara to identify the other escapees, but he refused. O’Hara later recounted, “He [Allison] said my conduct in the matter would be the means of prolonging my stay in the prison.”[16]

In fact, O’Hara would be allowed to leave the prison the following month, around the same time as many other Kentucky citizens who had been arrested over the summer, but unlike most of the citizen prisoners who would be released on the condition of taking a loyalty oath or with the additional provision of a bond, O’Hara would retain the status of political prisoner and remain under federal authority much longer. He was paroled on October 18, 1862, but was required to remain in Cincinnati. When O’Hara’s case and that of another prisoner, W. S. Pryor, came to the attention of Abraham Lincoln in January 1863, the president directed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to “Let their parole stand, but allow them to go at large generally.”[17] O’Hara’s parole was expanded to all states loyal to the Union, which allowed him to return to Kentucky. As a condition of his parole, he was required to report his current location by weekly letter to the military commandant of Cincinnati.[18]Dutifully, every week, O’Hara wrote a letter, the text of which rarely deviated unless a change in his residence was reported in the return address.Commanders came and went, departments reorganized and relocated, the country embarked on uneasy peace, and still James O’Hara sent his weekly parole letters.[19]

Finally, in early 1866, O’Hara’s case again drew the attention of military authorities. In March, E. O. C. Ord, commander of the Department of the Ohio, wrote Brigadier General H. L. Burnett asking for information on O’Hara. The tone of his letter suggested equal parts perplexity and frustration at the lack of records in O’Hara’s case. “I can find nothing on the books in the Asst. Judge Advocate General’s Office, relating to this man,” Ord wrote, “and am called upon for a report as to who and what he is, why under parole, since when, and by whose order, with such other information as may be had concerning him and his offence.”[20] Burnett sent back two of O’Hara’s parole letters and informed Ord that it was only by mistake that the Adjutant General’s Office had received and filed the documents. Burnett had “no other records or knowledge” of O’Hara’s case.[21] Ord then ordered a broader investigation to identify and examine any records pertaining to O’Hara, especially for information about the reason for his arrest and continued parole.[22]

Twice during the investigation, James O’Hara was asked to provide statements summarizing the facts of his case, which could not be located elsewhere. In a letter dated April 3, 1866, O’Hara recounted his arrest, his incarceration at the Newport Barracks, his transfer to Camp Chase, and the terms of his parole. He wisely omitted any reference to the failed prison break, which in 1862-63 may have been considered sufficient cause to continue the parole, rather than grant his release. But the reason for his arrest remained a mystery even to James O’Hara. As he explained, “I in vain endeavored to obtain a Specification of the ground upon which I was arrested during my stay at Camp Chase and would now be most happy if you could inform me.”[23] In his letter dated August 8, 1866, O’Hara provided substantially the same statement but added one additional detail: “There were affidavits of two witnesses taken after my arrest, while I was yet in New Port Barracks, but they contained no specification of any offence alleged to have been committed by me but general charges of Disloyalty.”[24] His release was approved by the Secretary of War on September 5, 1866, more than four years after his arrest.[25]

Hubbard Helm, the twice-arrested former sheriff of Campbell County, who participated in the failed prison escape with James O’Hara, was discharged from federal custody in April 1863, while he was already on parole. Despite his checkered history as a person of suspected disloyalty, Helm’s case fell under General Orders, No. 193, issued in November 1862, which called for the release of political prisoners still in custody.[26] Helm filed a lawsuit against Henry Gassaway in Campbell County that was considered part of a coordinated effort to undermine federal authority.[27] Helm was re-elected to the position of sheriff in 1866, 1868, and 1870.[28] In 1868, Helm and several other men, including James R. Hallam, received corporate recognition from the Kentucky legislature as “The Newport Newspaper Company” for the purpose of starting a newspaper and printing office in Campbell County.[29] A biographical reference of prominent Kentuckians published in the 1870s described Helm as “at times absolutely controlling the politics of his county.” The article went on to note that during the Civil War, Helm “stood on the side of the South in principle and sympathy.”[30]

Thomas L. Jones, who was arrested for making incendiary speeches about arming his children and fighting the government, was also one of the litigants who filed a lawsuit against Henry Gassaway.[31] In 1867, he became one of several congressmen-elect from Kentucky to have their elections challenged in the U.S. House of Representatives on grounds that they were ex-Confederates or Confederate sympathizers. Jones was eventually allowed to take his seat.[32]

From 1868 to 1874, James O’Hara Jr. was a judge in the 12th District Circuit Court. In 1874, he resigned his judgeship and formed a law partnership with John W. Stevenson.[33] As governor of Kentucky, Stevenson had strongly opposed federal Reconstruction policies and was uncritical of the Kentucky legislature when it rejected the 15th Amendment granting African Americans the right to vote.[34]

In the system of political detentions adopted during the Civil War, an accusation of disloyalty or a critical—albeit, reprehensible—utterance or a misplaced suspicion could land a citizen in prison. The mechanics of that system offends a commonly held sense of justice that includes the presumption of innocence, due process, and the right of free speech. And yet…amid the military crisis Henry Gassaway described, of enemy forces advancing from multiple directions, and recognizing an imperative not to reveal the vulnerabilities of the Union position, should Gassaway have waited to see if someone like Hubbard Helm or Thomas Jones would betray those weaknesses to the enemy? Should he have waited to see if the tough talk of a man who reportedly wished the death of Union troops and another who reportedly declared his willingness to fight the U.S. government would translate into acts of treason?  Or should Gassaway have taken those bellicose men at their word? After all, the opportunity to make war against the United States was on the march and about to breach the Union defenses at Newport. And yet… J. T. Boyle, William Sipes, and Horatio Wright all acknowledged that citizens innocent of wrongdoing, even as defined under the strict terms of Boyle’s original orders, could be and were mistakenly sent to prison.

The peculiar brand of loyalty that kept Kentucky in the Union had been conditioned, largely, on white Kentuckians’ mistaken belief that the federal government would preserve slavery and protect their property rights in human beings. Feeling betrayed by emancipation, they responded, after the Civil War, by electing ex-Confederates and Confederate sympathizers to office.[35] At least some of the former Camp Chase prisoners seem to have benefitted from this change in political currents. Also in the postwar era, white Kentuckians participated in campaigns of violence and intimidation against African Americans in what Anne Marshall describes as an attempt to “restore as much of the prewar social and racial order as possible.”[36] It is beyond the scope of this series and of the CWGK to determine whether the experience of the Camp Chase prisoners caused them to develop a more inclusive respect for individual rights or whether it amplified their grievances and made them more defiant of the policies of the federal government. But in light of developments in postwar Kentucky, it is necessary to ask of the citizens who complained in 1862 that their rights had been violated by incarceration: How many shared the postwar proclivities of the majority of white Kentuckians? And how many attempted to deny by legislative, judicial, or extralegal means, citizenship rights to the formerly enslaved?


[1] James O’Hara Jr. to S. M. Barber, April 3, 1866, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, Main Series, 1861-1870, NARA Microfilm Series M619, Roll 500, File 0146, p. 13-14 accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098886 (hereafter Letters Received);  Eighth Manuscript Census of the United States (1860), Population Schedules, Kentucky, Kenton County, Covington Ward 4, p. 697.[2] KYR-0002-011-0004.[3] Robert Maddox et al., “Letter from Prisoners at Camp Chase to Governor Magoffin,” Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Begun and Held in the Town of Frankfort, on Monday, the Second Day of September, In The Year Of Our Lord 1861, And of the Commonwealth the Seventieth (Frankfort, KY: Yeoman Office, 1861), 617. [4] KYR-0002-011-0001; KYR-0002-011-0004.[5] KYR-0002-011-0005.  [6] KYR-0002-011-0004. [7] KYR-0002-011-0002.[8] Ibid. [9] KYR-0002-011-0005.[10] Testimony of James O’Hara Jr., “Report of Select Committee on Military Arrests,” appendix to House Journal, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, vol. 59 (Columbus: Richard Nevins State Printer, 1863), 162.[11] Ibid., 162.[12] Eighth Manuscript Census of the United States (1860), Population Schedules, Kentucky, Campbell County, Newport, p. 551; The Biographical Encyclopædia of Kentucky of the Dead and Living Men of the Nineteenth Century, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: J. M. Armstrong & Company, 1878), 362; “Roll of Prisoners of War at Camp Chase Ohio,” Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, NARA Microfilm Series M598, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, RG 109, Roll 24, p. 190, accessed via Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/1124/M598_24-0241Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette. C Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0010, Case File 272, p. 12, accessed via fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/257090175. [13] “Report of Select Committee on Military Arrests,” 162. [14] Ibid., 163. [15] Ibid. [16] Ibid. [17] Abraham Lincoln to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, January 9, 1863, Kentucky Historical Society, SC103, http://kyhistory.com/cdm/ref/collection/MS/id/10068. [18] Letters Received, Roll 500, File 0146, p. 13-14, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098886. [19] For collection of letters see Papers Relating to Citizens, Compiled 1861 – 1867, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series M345, Roll 0207.  [20] E. O. C. Ord to H. L. Burnett, March 19, 1866, Letters Received, Roll 500, File 0146, p. 27, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098959. [21] Letters Received, Roll 500, File 0146, p.25. [22] Ibid. [23] James O’Hara to S. M. Barber, Letters Received, Roll 500, File 0146, p.14, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098890[24] James O’Hara to Hugh G. Brown, Letters Received, Roll, 500, File 0146, p. 4, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098812[25] Letters Received, Roll 500, File 0146, p.29, https://www.fold3.com/image/301098966. [26] Papers of and Relating to Military and Civilian Personnel, compiled 1874-1899, documenting the period 1861-1865, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series, M347, Roll 0180, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/251924427.   [27] Letters Received Roll 0370, File K250, p. 2, accessed via fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/301027826. [28] The Biographical Encyclopædia of Kentucky, 362.[29] “An Act to Incorporate the Newport Newspaper Company,” Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Passed at the Regular Session of the General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Frankfort on Monday, the Second Day of December, 1867, vol. 2 (Frankfort: Kentucky Yeoman Office, 1868), 188. [30] The Biographical Encyclopædia of Kentucky, 362.[31] Letters Received, Roll 0370, File K250, p. 2. [32] Ross A. Webb, Kentucky in the Reconstruction Era (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015) 27-28. [33] H. Levin, The Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1897), 758. [34] Lowell Harrison, ed., Kentucky’s Governors (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), 99.[35] Anne Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 2, 10, 24, 33-34.[36] Ibid., 56.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies and works as a volunteer on the CWGK Team. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory. 

More Dangerous than Open Enemies: Political Detentions in the Civil War Part Three

[This is the third installment of a four-part series]

Between July 1862, when Camp Chase began to receive large numbers of political detainees, and October 1862, when many of these cases began to be resolved, the prison received over 550 citizen prisoners, nearly half of whom were from Kentucky.[1]  Among these Kentucky citizens was Edward Stevenson, a Methodist minister and Russellville resident who was arrestedon suspicion of being – as Stevenson himself later reported — “a rabbid, or prominent Secessionist” and chairman of a “Home Committee on Safety,” an organization erroneously presumed to have existed for the purpose of harassing Unionists.[2]  Stevenson came under suspicion of Union forces, in part, for having participated in an ad hoc system of identifying supposed “dangerous” persons during the Confederate occupation of Russellville; ironically, that process closely resembled the one by which Stevenson later found himself incarcerated at Camp Chase.

In August 1862, Stevenson was one of 37 prisoners from Camp Chase Prison No. 1 who petitioned Kentucky governor James Robinson to intervene in what they clearly articulated as a violation of legal norms.[3] Earlier in the month, a similar petition signed by 93 Kentuckians in Prison No. 2 was addressed to Robinson’s predecessor, Beriah Magoffin, who in the interim, resigned the Kentucky governorship.[4]

In addition to signing that petition, Stevenson also appealed to Governor Robinson and federal officials through personal correspondence. In a letter to Robinson dated August 18, Stevenson acknowledged that he had served as chairman of the safety committee but denied that he was a secessionist. He regarded secession as a “rash and reckless course,” of which he strongly disapproved. He did, however, admit to opposing U.S. war policy, as he did not believe the shedding of blood was the best way to preserve the Union.[5] But he also claimed he had not made his sentiments publicly known. “If I ever cherished a disloyal sentiment, uttered a disloyal word, or performed a disloyal act,” Stevenson wrote, “I am not conscious of having done so.”[6] He justified his involvement with the safety committee, which had been appointed by residents of Russellville during the Confederate occupation, as being an agent of reason and restraint. His hope, he claimed, was “doing some good; and especially in protecting peaceable citizens, from the violence of misguided and reckless southern citizens and soldiers.”[7] Indeed, when he offered a detailed account of the workings of that committee to Joseph Holt—who was a few weeks away from being named judge advocate general of the army—Stevenson claimed that when the civil authorities of his town were displaced by the Confederate invasion, the committee had been formed with the intention of protecting peaceable citizens. He also noted that Unionists had expressed gratitude to the committee for the protections it had provided.[8] By Stevenson’s account, the Home Committee on Safety also served in a capacity similar to that of the U.S. special commissioner in the cases of political prisoners. Ordered to “arrest all dangerous persons found in the community,” the Confederate commander at Russellville, according to Stevenson, proposed that the safety committee review the cases and, if the committee judged the persons “peaceable citizens,” they would be “promptly discharged.”  The committee, Stevenson recalled, regarded this arrangement as an opportunity for “the protection of the innocent and unoffending from personal and military violence” and readily accepted the responsibility. Perhaps with a hint to his own jailers, Stevenson noted that “all who were turned over to the comte were judged to be peaceable citizens, and with one exception, were all immediately released.”[9] The exception was a Mr. Finley, who was given a choice by the Confederate occupiers of taking an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, becoming a prisoner, or being sent beyond Confederate lines. When Finley refused to take the loyalty oath or choose between the other options, the committee was asked to decide for him. They determined that sending him beyond Confederate lines posed the “least affliction” to Finley and his family, but their recommendation, according to Stevenson, was misstated as a “mandatory resolution,” which appeared to be the source of the claim that the committee had mistreated Unionists. The members eventually rescinded their decision, and Finley was allowed to remain in Russellville without being taken prisoner.[10]

Of the five members of the Committee on Safety who were subsequently arrested by U.S. authorities, only Edward Stevenson and one other, James McCallen, were detained and sent to Camp Chase.[11] When General Boyle was consulted about their applications for release, he recommended that McCallen be discharged on condition of taking a loyalty oath and executing bond. Without offering to expound on his claims, Boyle advised that Stevenson be detained, as he had “exerted all of his influence against the Government and has been a most pestilent disciminator of treason.”[12]

Russellville residents M. B. Morton and John B. Peyton corroborated Stevenson’s account of the Committee on Safety. In a letter signed by both men, they affirmed that “a vast amount of mischief and trouble was prevented by the labors of that committee.” Stevenson, they attested, “labored with unremitting efforts and with all his influence to those ends.”[13]  In its first iteration, Peyton had served on the Military Board of Kentucky, an organization created primarily to prevent then-governor Beriah Magoffin from using the state’s military resources to support the Confederacy.[14] Peyton had also been one of the five members of the safety committee initially arrested along with Stevenson.[15] Their legal fates would continue to be entwined even after Stevenson’s incarceration.

On October 7, Reuben Hitchcock, the special commissioner appointed to examine the cases of civilian prisoners, issued his recommendation in Stevenson’s case. Hitchcock judged Stevenson to be “a man of considerable influence, of peaceble & quiet disposition, Southern Rights in his political Sentiments, but disposed to submit to and follow the actions of his State.” Hitchcock determined that Stevenson and most of the other members of the Russellville Home Committee on Safety had “labored fruitfully to prevent violence and outrage upon the person or property of either Union or Secession men.” Believing he could be “discharged without danger to the public peace & interest,” Hitchcock recommended that Stevenson be released on condition of taking an oath of allegiance to the United Sates and giving $3,000 bond as “security for his good behavior.”[16]

In light of that recommendation and Stevenson’s “greatly infeebeld health,” he was paroled to Columbus for ten days but feared the parole would expire before an order for release could be obtained. He appealed to Governor Robinson to request an extension from Ohio governor David Tod so that he would not be required to return to prison. “An other weeks confinement and exposure in that place will terminate my earthly existence,” Stevenson predicted. He also confided to Robinson that he was eager to “get Home and die in the bosom of the little remnant of my once hapy, but now deeply afflicted family.”[17] Stevenson was released from federal custody on October 20, 1862.[18] But his legal troubles did not end there.

Although the system of political detentions operated separately from the criminal justice system and typically did not result in prosecutions,Stevenson and John B. Peyton, the ex-Military Board member who was also involved with the safety committee, were indicted by a federal grand jury.[19] After Peyton successfully petitioned for a presidential pardon, Stevenson pursued a similar legal strategy.[20] Once again, Peyton lobbied on Stevenson’s behalf. Enlisting the aid of John B. Temple, a former president of the Military Board, Peyton wrote that he had witnessed Stevenson “going through inclement weather day and night, at his advanced age and in feeble health, to the camps and headquarters of the military to procure the release of arrested Union citizens.” Peyton added that after Stevenson’s “self-sacrificing and devoted efforts to prevent oppression and misrule,” for him to be made “the subject of cruel misrepresentation and rank injustice is particularly hard.” Peyton argued that even if Stevenson were “the man that cruel misrepresentation” had made him out be, his “long imprisonment in Camp Chase” should have been sufficient punishment.[21] Writing to Kentucky Congressman Henry Grider, Temple, who had known Stevenson since childhood, declared that it was “a stigma upon the government that men who banded themselves to alleviate the horrors of this war should be so pertinaciously pursued while so much greater offences were not so vigorously pursued.” Temple also recounted his discussions with U.S. attorney James Harlan. “I happen to know,” Temple wrote, “that Hon Mr. Harlan considered many indictments found by the Federal Grand Juries as not well founded & had declared his determination to dismiss this one—He told me that many indictments or true bills were formed when he was too much engaged to instruct the juries as to their duty.” Temple added that a Union military commander at Russellville had investigated the matter of the safety committee and found the members to be “guilty of no fault.”[22]  President Lincoln ordered a pardon for Edward Stevenson on January 13, 1864. [23]  Stevenson died nearly six months later, on July 6, 1864.[24]

As for the other Camp Chase petitioners who sought assistance from the Kentucky governor in the summer of 1862, in the majority of cases, they were released by the end of the year on condition of taking a loyalty oath. A few were required to take the oath and secure a bond in amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000.[25]

Advising a subordinate in February 1863, General Horatio Wright aptly explained the potential pitfalls of citizen detentions. He described a class of citizens in Kentucky who “while never having left their homes or taken up arms in the rebel cause have by their acts proved themselves enemies to the United States.” Wright did not elaborate on these acts but advised that on “proper proof,” such citizens should be arrested and sent with written charges to Camp Chase, adding that “many such [citizens] give no chance for obtaining evidence of their disloyalty, while they are notoriously disloyal.” Describing this group as “often more dangerous than open enemies,” Wright recounted how they were arrested when a “sound judgment indicated a necessity” and then released when the necessity had passed. But he also advised “great prudence” in exercising the power of arrest, as “individuals entirely innocent of any disloyal design may be arrested and imprisoned upon the evidence of the over-zealous patriot or the designing enemy.” Wright pointed to the “numerous discharges” of Camp Chase prisoners as evidence of this systemic flaw.[26]

Aside from the often arbitrary nature of political detentions and the apparent lack of due process they entailed, the reports of a government detectivealso call into question their effectiveness in preventing acts of subversion. Posing as a Confederate sympathizer in Lexington in the summer of 1864, Ed F. Hoffman made contact with Daniel Wiehl, who was imprisoned in Camp Chase from August to December of 1862. Wiehl apparently fell under suspicion at least one other time, as Hoffman reported that Wiehl had taken the oath of allegiance twice.[27] Hoffman’s dispatches indicate that, despite having sworn his loyalty to the U.S., Wiehl provided information to Hoffman about a secret route taken by recruits leaving Lexington to enlist in the Confederate army.[28] It was not uncommon for residents to take the oath while concealing their true sympathies.[29]


[1] Statistics Compiled from lists of prisoners received at Camp Chase for July-October 1862, Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series M598, Roll 25, accessed via Ancestry.com.   [2] Edward Stevenson to James F. Robinson,  18 August 1862,  Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Petitions for Pardons, Remissions, and Respites, 1862-1863,  R3-105,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY, accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-029-0065; M. B. Morton and J. B. Peyton to J. J. Crittenden, 10 July 1862, Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0018, Case File #550, p. 19, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/257012348. [3] Thomas S. Bronston, Jr. et al. to James F. Robinson, 19 August 1862, Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1862-1863, R2-9 to R2-10, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY, accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-027-0008[4] Robert Maddox et al., “Letter from Prisoners at Camp Chase to Governor Magoffin,” Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Begun and Held in the Town of Frankfort, on Monday, the Second Day of September, In The Year Of Our Lord 1861, And of the Commonwealth the Seventieth (Frankfort, KY: Yeoman Office, 1861), 617; Lowell Harrison, ed., Kentucky’s Governors (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), 80.[5] Stevenson to Robinson.[6] Ibid.[7] Ibid.[8] Edward Stevenson to Joseph Holt, July 1862, Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0018, Case File #550, p. 7, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/257012232. [9] Stevenson to Holt, 7. [10] Ibid, 9. [11] Ibid, 10-11. [12] J. T. Boyle to L. C. Turner, 21 August 1862, Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0018, Case File #550, p. 33, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/257012459. [13] Morton and Peyton to to Crittenden, p. 20.[14] Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, vol. 1, 1861-1866(Frankfort: Kentucky Yeoman Office, 1866), vii; E. Merton Coulter, The Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky, chapter 7 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1926) Google ebook. [15] Stevenson to Holt, 11. [16] Reuben Hitchcock to L. C. Turner, 7 October 1862, Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0018, Case File #550, p. 41, accessed via Fold3.com,https://www.fold3.com/image/257012521. [17] Edward Stevenson to James F. Robinson, 11 October 1862, Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1862-1863,  R2-89,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY, accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Editionhttp://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-027-0057. [18] “Roll of Prisoners of War at Camp Chase Ohio,” Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series M598, Roll 24, accessed via Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/1124/M598_24-0246; “1862 List of Prisoners Released from Confinement at Camp Chase,” Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Publication M598, Roll 26, accessed via Ancestry.com,  https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/1124/M598_26-0280. [19] Neff, Justice in Blue and Gray, 158; Edward Stevenson to H. Grider, 31 December 1863, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M1003, Roll 0026, Edward Stevenson File, p. 12, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/249/20662935. [20] Stevenson to Grider, 12. [21] John B. Peyton to J. B. Temple, 31 December 183, Amnesty Papers, compiled 1865 – 1867, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M1003, Roll 0026, Edward Stevenson File, p. 16, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/249/20662957. [22] J. B. Temple to Henry Grider, Amnesty Papers, compiled 1865 – 1867, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M1003, Roll 0026, Edward Stevenson File, p. 17, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/20662965. [23] Amnesty Papers, 1, https://www.fold3.com/image/20661838.[24] _Find A Grave_, “Rev Edward Stevenson (1797- 1864),” Memorial #123746647, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/123746647 (accessed October 15, 2018).[25] “Roll of Prisoners of War at Camp Chase Ohio;” “1862 List of Prisoners Released from Confinement at Camp Chase.” [26] H. G. Wright to Brigadier General White, OR, series 2, vol. 5: 300.[27] Ed. F. Hoffman to J. P. Sanderson, OR, series 2, vol. 7: 302-303, 336; “Roll of Prisoners of War at Camp Chase Ohio Red During August 1862,” Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series M598, accessed via Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/1124/M598_24-0254.[28] Ed. F. Hoffman to J. P. Sanderson, OR, series 2, vol. 7: 304. [29] Christopher Phillips, “Netherworld Of War: The Dominion System and the Contours of Federal Occupation in Kentucky,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 110, no. 3/4 (2012): 343, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23388055.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies and works as a volunteer on the CWGK Team. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory.

Check back with CWGK every Monday in January to read a new editions to Political Detentions in the Civil War.

“Arrests Continue Very Much to Our Detriment”: Political Detentions in the Civil War Part Two

[This is the second installment of a four-part series, read part one here.]

In the summer of 1862, orders from General J. T. Boyle meant to identify Confederate sympathizers and persons who had demonstrated disloyalty to the Union set off a wave of political detentions of Kentucky citizens. The authority over these political arrests and investigations, which originally rested with the State Department, had been transferred to the War Department in February 1862.[1] Once incarcerated in Camp Chase, prisoners discovered they often had little recourse and few means to expedite their cases. As James Russell Hallam complained in his letter to Governor James Robinson, “I have sought in vain for some tribunal either civil or military before which I could have my case investigated.” Testimony of friends and neighbors, the lawyer seemed certain, would allow him to refute the “the false & scandalous charge” against him, which, he insisted, was “unsustained by any shadow of evidence.”[2] Hallam had sent a petition to the War Department that swore his loyalty to the United States government, along with supporting affidavits, all the while “praying a speedy investigation.”[3] Assuming the delayed reply meant his case had been overlooked, Hallam asked Robinson to intercede.

He appealed to the governor’s knowledge of him over their long acquaintance.  “You have known me personally for twenty years,” Hallam wrote, “& I feel confidant I am in your opinion, entitled to some sort of credence when I positively & solemnly assert that I have been guilty of no act or word disloyal to the Government under which I was born.” “On the contrary,” Hallam insisted, “since the rebellion began I have to the best of my ability & opportunities sustained the cause of the Union & abhored & repudiated secession & the rebellion.” Lest he leave any doubt, Hallam declared, “My earnest wishes & hopes are for the speedy crushing of the rebellion & the restoration of the Union as it was.”[4] After he wrote his initial appeal, Hallam realized that though they were long-acquainted, Robinson had no first-hand knowledge of his position on secession. He wrote a follow-up letter the next day, August 19, in which he named the Kentucky Adjutant General and two state senators as character references to support his claims of Union loyalty.[5]

Hallam’s eagerness to clear his name and to enlist anyone and everyone he thought could help him do it are not surprising, given that his arrest on July 18, 1862, was his second detention on suspicion of disloyalty. He was arrested on October 5, 1861, and held in federal custody until December 4 of that year. He took the oath of allegiance upon his release and claimed to have “lived faithfully up to it, both from duty and inclination” ever since.[6] Amid the July military emergency, Hallam volunteered to defend Newport. While helping “in good faith” to organize the defense of his hometown, he was arrested by Henry Gassaway and sent to Camp Chase.[7]  All of this he wrote to Edwin Stanton on July 25, along with assurances of his support for the Union. “I deny the constitutional right of secession [and] look upon & denounce secession as a crime,” declared Hallam, who added that he had “sympathized with the United States government in the present rebellion.”[8]

Hallam also explained to Stanton why he though his loyalty had come under scrutiny. Over his objections, three of Hallam’s sons had enlisted in the Confederate army.  “I declare that my sons joined the rebel cause against my strong remonstrances desire & command,” Hallam wrote.[9] Since their enlistment, two had been captured and imprisoned—one at Alton, Illinois, and the other at Camp Morton, Indiana. While advocating for his own release, Hallam had also been trying to talk some sense into his wayward children. “Since their capture,” he wrote to Stanton, “I have been untiring in my efforts to reclaim them to their allegiance to the U.S. & I think I have succeeded. My letters to them & their answers to me will sustain me.”[10]

Despite his best efforts, Hallam’s release would not happen quickly. The War Department was only just appointing a special commissioner to investigate the cases of the Camp Chase political prisoners. Reuben Hitchcock was notified of his appointment on August 13.[11] His instructions from the War Department, dated August 23, were to interview each prisoner and examine evidence related to the person’s guilt or innocence and their “intentions toward the Government whether loyal or hostile.” He was directed to make a report that included his recommendation “as to whether the peace and safety of the Government requires [the prisoner’s] detention or whether he may be discharged without danger to the public peace.” The War Department advised Hitchcock that he was granted “the largest discretion” in his investigative powers and except in rare circumstances, his recommendations would be followed. Hitchcock was also advised that the War Department wished to “forbear the exercise of power,” as much as possible without sacrificing the security of the government.[12]

Although in June he had opposed the release of Camp Chase political prisoners on grounds that it hampered the efforts of the Union army in Kentucky, by early August, General J. T. Boyle complained that “Prisoners [were] sent to prison for the most trivial causes by provost-marshals” who had ostensibly been acting on his orders.[13] Boyle found that he was unable to secure the release of even Union men whose loyalty could be vouched for by the U.S. attorney.[14] Such arrests for “trivial causes” strained an already tenuous political situation in Kentucky. On August 12, J. B. Temple, President of the Military Board of Kentucky, warned Abraham Lincoln that “indiscriminate arrests” played poorly on public sentiment. Specifically, Temple objected that “Quiet, law abiding men holding State-rights dogmas are required to take a [loyalty] oath repulsive to them or go to prison.”[15] The next day, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton communicated to Boyle that the power to arrest Kentucky civilians should be “exercised with much caution and only where good cause exists or strong evidence of hostility to Government.”[16]

In response, Boyle again attributed the problem to the actions of provost marshals, some of whom he had appointed and others of whom were already in office when he took command. According to Boyle, “many arrests are made by provost-marshals without my authority and in some cases without proper cause.” He explained that in some cases, the provost marshals had sent the prisoners to Camp Chase, where he had no control over the prisoners. He reminded Stanton that he had already asked the War Department for authority over the Camp Chase prisoners, presumably so he could secure the release of loyal Unionists wrongfully incarcerated but also those who had been “sent to prison for special purposes of public interest” who remained in prison after the perceived threat had passed. Boyle complained that “For some reason this control of the prisoners is withheld from me.” But he also insisted that some of the arrests were justified. “There are many so-called Union men in Kentucky who still cling to the hope of reconciliation and believe in a policy of leniency,” he explained, although the general strongly opposed such a policy. “I believe in subjugation,” Boyle declared, “complete subjugation by hard and vigorous dealing with traitors and treason.” “Any other policy,” he predicted “will be ruinous to us in Kentucky.” Although he expressed willingness to adopt any policy the President or Secretary of War directed regarding arrests, he added that it was only “lukewarm Union men” who complained.[17]

A little more than a month later, on September 15, James Robinson and Joshua Speed directed messages to President Lincoln urging that the authority for arrests be placed with the Kentucky governor. The “irregular and changing system of military arrests,” claimed Robinson, “does more harm than good.”[18]  Speed, a longtime friend of Abraham Lincoln, reported that “Annoying arrests continue very much to our detriment.” He advised the President, “The good of the cause requires that you should direct Boyle to leave this whole matter to our loyal Governor.”[19] Later that day, Edwin Stanton ordered Boyle to “abstain from making any more arrests except upon the order of the Governor of Kentucky.”[20] In reply, Boyle insisted that he had been sparing in his use of the power of civilian arrest and that reports to the contrary were false. He repeated his claim that the complaints were made by men of questionable loyalty.  And he declared that “There is a bounty of absolute security and protection to be a rebel in Kentucky.”[21] Boyle warned that if the government did not “put down the rebels in our midst…the war will have to be fought over in Kentucky every year.”[22] As it was, the general reported that in Louisville, Confederate flags were thrown from windows “with impunity,” and he defiantly informed the Secretary of War that he had countermanded the order regarding arrests.[23]

Although Boyle seems to have borne the blame for those operating under his command, other accounts support his contention that some provost marshals were, as Stanton later described, “rigorously and excessively arbitrary and harassing to the people of Kentucky.”[24] Instances were reported of provost marshals making arrests and accepting bribes to release the prisoners, actions Stanton condemned as “inexcusable outrages.”[25] Indeed, in October, he directed that provost marshals found to have abused their authority in such a manner should, themselves, be arrested.[26] On December 18, 1862, Lt. Colonel William B. Sipes, the military commander at Covington and Newport who assumed the post in September, acknowledged that the power to arrest and imprison civilians had been “too indiscriminately exercised,” but he also noted that regular military officers were rarely the problem; more often, the arrests had been made by civilian provost marshals. “The will of these gentlemen was the law,” Sipes wrote, “and in many instances they appear to have exercised their official functions with but little regard for any rule of action either civil or military. Many of them kept no records, and instances are not rare where prisoners were confined by their order for months without the shadow of a written charge of any kind against them.”[27] He also described instances in which provost marshals had confiscated property. “Cases are known,” Sipes, reported, “where the effects of individuals were seized and appropriated without any military or legal sanction and in violation of all principles of justice and right.”[28] Sipes blamed such practices for “much of the bad feeling” in Kentucky and recommended that instead of civilian appointees, the provost marshal positions be filled by regular army officers.[29]

One provost marshal, Henry Gassaway, would become the target of multiple civil lawsuits by people he had arrested for disloyal conduct. In April 1865, Gassaway was the defendant of at least twenty-one lawsuits filed in Campbell County Circuit Court, each one seeking damages for false imprisonment in the amount of $50,000. Gassaway turned to the War Department for help and, in explaining his situation, provided a detailed account of his actions as provost marshal and the military emergency that led to several arrests. Gassaway’s account casts him, not as a rogue provost marshal, but a public servant who dutifully followed the orders of General Boyle. Gassaway wrote that the plaintiffs filed their lawsuits around the same time “as if acting in concert” and that the cases had continued as though “Originating in a desire to obstruct military operations and having the Effect of Embarrassing and oppressing the constituted authorities of the Government of the United States.”[30] Gassaway had the right to have the lawsuits removed to federal court, but Judge Advocate A. A. Hosmer had another idea. In a similar case, the Bureau of Military Justice had concluded that it was “competent,” under the proclamation of marital law, for the general commanding the military district of Kentucky to “restrain, by such means as in his discretion might be deemed needful” the continuation of nuisance lawsuits filed against U.S. officers for actions taken in the course of their duties. Hosmer advised that General Palmer, then in command of Union forces in Kentucky, could “take a needful action,” implying that he could simply re-arrest the troublemakers.[31]

The problem William Sipes described, of civilians being imprisoned for months without so much as a written charge against them, was contrary to Boyle’s original order, but that appears to be what happened to James R. Hallam. Although his appeal to Governor Robinson suggests Hallam had not yet received it, the Commissary General of Prisoners, William Hoffman, penned a letter to Hallam dated August 10. Hoffman acknowledged receipt of a letter Hallam had sent him directly; one that Hallam had sent to Ohio governor David Tod, which had been forwarded to Hoffman; and the petition that Hallam had sent via the Camp Chase post commander, presumably the one Hallam mentioned in his letter to James Robinson. Colonel Hoffman assured Hallam that his case had been referred to the Secretary of War “in a way if possible to secure speedy action upon it.” He also advised Hallam that he would probably be required to obtain affidavits from friends in Kentucky to establish his loyalty.[32] To move the process along, Colonel Hoffman had inquired into the charges against Hallam and two other political prisoners.[33] The answer he received was that there were no charges against Hallam. The colonel concluded that “there would therefore seem to be no reason for his further detention.”[34] That was on August 14, 1862, before Hallam wrote to the Kentucky governor. But Hallam was detained for two more months. He was required to take an oath of allegiance and finally released on October 14, 1862.[35]  The following year Hallam filed a lawsuit in Kenton County against Henry Gassaway and several other men for wrongful imprisonment. His civil suit continued at least through April 1864, but no record of the final judgment has been located.[36] Whether or not Hallam’s was the earlier case referred to by the judge advocate, given A. A. Hosmer’s advice on how to deal with the coordinated lawsuits in Campbell County, it is doubtful that Hallam’s lawsuit met with any more success.

[1] Neff, Justice in Blue and Gray, 157.[2] James R. Hallam to James F. Robinson,  18 August 1862,  Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1862-1863,  R2-3 to R2-4,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-027-0005.[3] Ibid.[4] Ibid.[5] James R. Hallam to James F. Robinson,  19 August 1862,  Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Appointments by the Governor, Military Appointments, 1862-1863,  R2-116 to R2-117,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Editionhttp://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-028-0003.[6] James R. Hallam to Edwin Stanton, 25 July 1862, Case Files of Investigations by Levi C. Turner and Lafayette C. Baker, 1861-1865, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M797, Roll 0007, Case File 193, p. 6, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/257035312[7] Ibid., 5[8] Ibid. [9] Ibid.[10] Ibid., 5-6.[11] Edwin M. Stanton to Reuben Hitchcock, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of theUnion and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1880-1901), series 2, vol. 4: 380 (hereafter OR).[12] L. C. Turner, “Instructions for Hon. Reuben Hitchcock, special commissioner to investigate and to report on the cases of state prisoners held in custody at Camp Chase,” OR, series 2, vol. 4: 425.[13] Jeremiah T. Boyle to Edwin M. Stanton, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 17; Jeremiah T. Boyle to Edwin M. Stanton, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 412 (quote 412). [14] J. T. Boyle to Edwin M. Stanton, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 412.[15] J. B. Temple to Abraham Lincoln, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 378.[16] Edwin M. Stanton to Jeremiah T. Boyle, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 380.[17] Jeremiah T. Boyle to Edwin M. Stanton, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 412-13.[18] James F. Robinson to Abraham Lincoln, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 517.[19] James F. Speed, to Abraham Lincoln, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 517.[20] Edwin M. Stanton to Jeremiah T. Boyle, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 517.[21] Jeremiah T. Boyle to Edwin M. Stanton, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 517.[22] Ibid., 517-18.[23] Ibid., 518.[24] Edwin M. Stanton to Horatio G. Wright, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 616.[25] Edwin M. Stanton to Horatio G. Wright, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 616.[26] Joshua F. Speed to James F. Robinson,  14 October 1862,  Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1862-1863,  R2-95 to R2-96,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Editionhttp://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-027-0045.[27] William B. Sipes to Horatio Wright, OR, series 2, vol. 5: 96.[28] Ibid., 96-97.[29] Ibid., 97.[30] Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, Main Series, 1861-1870, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M619, Roll 0370, File No. K250, p. 6, accessed via Fold3.com, https://www.fold3.com/image/301027835.  [31] Ibid., 8.[32] William Hoffman to James R. Hallam, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 371-72.[33] William Hoffman to Col. S. Burbank, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 365.[34] William Hoffman to C. P. Buckingham, OR, series 2, vol. 4: 391.[35] “Roll of Prisoners of War at Camp Chase Ohio,” Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, NARA RG 109, Microfilm Series M598, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Roll 24, p. 190-91, accessed via Ancestry.com, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/interactive/1124/M598_24-0241[36] Kenton County Circuit Court, Covington, Order Books, 1845-1977, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, March 9, 1863-April 16, 1864, 291, 344, 357, 557.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies and works as a volunteer on the CWGK Team. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory.

Check back with CWGK every Monday in January to read a new editions to Political Detentions in the Civil War.

“Without Warrant or Law”: Political Detentions in the Civil War Part 1

On the afternoon of July 18, 1862, Newport, Kentucky, attorney James Russell Hallam was arrested at his home by the city’s provost marshal and “a large body of armed regular soldiers.”[1] When he demanded to know the charges against him, Hallam later recounted, the provost marshal refused to tell. Hallam was taken under guard to the U.S. Barracks at Newport and held overnight. The next morning he and several other Kentucky citizens were sent to Camp Chase prison in Columbus, Ohio, where Hallam wrote to Kentucky Governor James Robinson that he had been “closely confined ever since & deprived of my liberty.”[2] Writing a month after his arrest, Hallam also reported what he had learned from the post commander about the cause of his imprisonment: He was “charged in general terms with disloyalty, to the United States Government” but, by Hallam’s account, “no specific act or word of disloyalty” had been named against him.[3]

Amid the crisis of civil war, Kentucky civilians like Hallam became political prisoners, arrested—often on vague allegations of disloyalty—and imprisoned without ever being legally charged with a crime. Political detentions, which occurred mostly in border states, were meant to be preventative and usually did not lead to criminal prosecutions. Once a person was in custody, an investigation determined whether sufficient evidence of disloyalty existed to merit further incarceration; if it did not, the prisoner could be released, usually on condition of taking a loyalty oath.[4] Ideologically speaking, “disloyalty” was not strictly limited to overt support for the Confederacy but could encompass opposition to various facets Union war policy.[5] The imprisonment of Hallam and dozens of other political prisoners who petitioned the Kentucky governor from Camp Chase in the summer of 1862 reflected a deeply flawed system of identifying dissidents, one that threatened to worsen an already tenuous political situation in Kentucky.

In August 1862, a total of 130 Kentucky citizens signed two petitions—one generated in each of two prison barracks at Camp Chase—declaring they had been wrongfully incarcerated and asking the assistance of the Kentucky governor. Both petitions argued the illegality of the arrests and the denial of due process to which the signers had been subjected. The petition from Prison No. 2 was dated August 6 and addressed to Beriah Magoffin, who would soon resign his office. Ninety-three inmates of Prison No. 2 asserted that they were taken to Camp Chase “by the force of arms, against our will and consent, in violation of the laws of Kentucky and the laws of the United States.”[6] They declared they had been arrested “without warrant or law” and noted that many had “been in confinement for a long time, with no hope of being released or having any hearing before any tribunal.”[7] They insisted that they were “law-abiding citizens of Kentucky and the United States,” that they had “not violated the laws of either,” and that their imprisonment was “unjust, both in law and in the eyes of God and man.”[8] The prisoners hoped the Kentucky legislature would “take speedy action” to assist them and “not allow her sons to rot in prison, without charge or crime of any kind.”[9] On August 19, 1862, thirty-seven prisoners from various parts of Kentucky who were incarcerated in Camp Chase Prison No. 1 similarly declared that they had been arrested “without warrant and without legal authority, in violation of law and their civil and legal rights, & forced out of the State of Ky.”[10] The petitioners insisted that they were “unlawfully held” at Camp Chase, and that they had “always been law, abiding citizens of the State of Ky, and [had] never committed an act of disloyalty against that State or the United States.” Yet they claimed they had been told by a prison official that they could “only regain our liberty by proof establishing our innocence — a principle unprecedented and unknown to the law.”[11]

Historian Stephen C. Neff identifies August and September of 1862 as having the highest rates of political arrests during the Civil War. This time frame coincided with the first efforts toward conscription, the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and the first national suspension of habeas corpus. Martial law measures were also adopted that allowed detention for interfering with Union enlistments and for the highly subjective offence of “disloyal practices,” which generated what Neff describes as a “veritable orgy of detentions.”[12] Camp Chase records suggest detentions in Kentucky began to escalate slightly earlier, in July 1862.  James R. Hallam was one of 28 Kentucky citizens and 7 Newport residents who arrived at Camp Chase from the Newport Barracks on July 19. On July 22, the prison received another 25 residents of Newport or Campbell County. For the entire month of July, the prison received 153 civilian prisoners from Kentucky, only 21 of whom arrived before July 15. In August, 50 prisoners arrived from Kentucky; in September, the number fell to 40.[13]

The orders of General Jeremiah T. Boyle demanding that certain categories of Kentucky citizens report to provost marshals to take loyalty oaths, coupled with a heightened military threat in the summer of 1862, precipitated the spike in citizen arrests. Boyle prefaced his June 19 directive with the statement that “peaceful and law-abiding citizens and residents of the State must be protected in their persons, property, and rights.” But anyone who had joined the Confederate forces, given them assistance, or crossed their lines without the proper permissions and since returned were ordered to appear before provost marshals in Louisville, Bowling Green, Lexington, or Paducah. These citizens were then required to “furnish evidence of… repentance, and take the oath of allegiance, and give bonds and security for their future good conduct.” Persons who failed to report would be “arrested and committed to the military prison at Louisville, and sent thence to Camp Chase” with a written record of the charges against them. There, they would wait for further action by the Secretary of War. Boyle also instructed that “In times of trouble like these, good, law-abiding men will refrain from language and conduct that excite to rebellion.” Allowing a wide latitude for interpretation, he prescribed arrest for “anything said or done with the intent to excite to rebellion.”[14]

A confluence of military events also accounted for an increase in arrests, particularly in northern Kentucky, where Campbell County provost marshal Henry C. Gassaway proved highly effective in identifying and removing potential disloyal persons. On July 18, the day James Hallam was arrested, and in the days following, Gassaway executed what might be considered mass arrests of suspected disloyal persons. When he was later called upon to defend his actions, he insisted he was acting on Boyle’s orders in the midst of a military emergency. Two days before the arrests, Georgetown had been captured; a day after that, the battle of Cynthiana had been fought. On the 18th, Paris had been captured by John Hunt Morgan. According to reports in Newport, Morgan had 3,000 troops and was coordinating with General Marshal, who was advancing with his own large force from the eastern part of the state. At the same time, Kirby Smith was moving in from the south, and, as Gassaway recalled, he “very soon thereafter drove our lines back to within four miles of Cincinnati.” The situation in Newport was growing dire. On the day of the arrests, by Gassaway’s account, the telegraph wires were cut, the railroad captured, and “rebel Scouts were threatening the southern line of the County.”[15] As Gassaway recalled,

The Commandant of the Post and the Barracks ordered their officers to prepare for an immediate attack and sent out Scouts and pickets along every approach to the City. A few days previously the guns in the fortifications around the hills of the city had been spiked and dismounted. The defences around the city were weak, and the union soldiers few and undisciplined. It was important that our true condition of Weakness should be Kept from the Knowledge of the Enemy. A large number of the fighting Union men of the Vicinity had been sent to the defense of the interior. 75 Home Guards of New Port were in the battle of Cynthiana, and on the morning of the 18th news came that they had met with defeat and disaster which added much to the Excitement and alarm of the people.[16]

In June, Henry Gassaway had received the circular containing Boyle’s orders about how to deal with suspected disloyalty. It included a letter from John Boyle, the Assistant Adjutant General, who advised Gassaway to “arrest and send to Camp Chase a few of the most violent and rabid secessionists.” [17]  Gassaway was told to send a report to headquarters, and the matter would be settled. During the crisis in July, Gassaway telegraphed General Boyle asking if he should make arrests of “persons then considered dangerous.” The answer he said he received was, “‘arrest them certainly.’”[18]

Apprehended in the roundup of “dangerous” citizens was Hubbard D. Helm, the former sheriff and current master commissioner of the Campbell County Chancery Court.[19] It was not Helm’s first arrest. With one brother in the Confederate army and another described as a “rebel agent abroad,” Helm had been arrested in November 1861. As reported in a memo compiled from records of the State Department, which had authority over political arrests at the time, Helm was accused of expressing the “strongest secession sentiments” and the hope that “Union troops on their way to the interior of Kentucky would never return alive.”[20] Since that incident, Helm had not tempered his public comments. An affidavit sworn by an acquaintance of Helm’s in July 1862 claimed that Helm had been overheard talking with some men when news was reported that Fort Donelson had been captured. According to the witness’s statement, Helm replied that the news was “a damed lie and that any man that took that up was a liar and a sun of [a] Bitch.” When subsequent news was received of the defeat of Union troops, the witness reported, Helm seemed “Elated and Gratified.” Helm’s frequently observed “manner and conduct,” the witness concluded, “Showed that he was the enemy of the Government and that he desired the Success of the Southern Confederacy.”[21]

Another name on the Prison No. 2 petition was Robert Maddox. The same memo that shows Helm’s prior arrest also shows that one Robert Maddox was arrested on the same day as Helm in November 1861 for making statements similar to Helm’s. On July 3, 1862, Henry Gassaway wrote General J. T. Boyle that Robert Maddox “is a man of meanse and has great influence with his money particularly in this neighborhood and uses it freely to effect his end.” Gassaway considered Maddox “a dangerous man to our Government” and suggested if he were “held for some time it will do much good in quelling outbursts among the Rebels in this County.”[22] The four affidavits Gassaway sent to support the case against Maddox were not filed with his letter, so it is not known upon what evidence he based his conclusions. The 1860 census for Campbell County shows three Robert Maddoxes, who in 1862 would have been 18, 46, and 50 years old, but none match the 43-year-old Maddox who, prison records show, was arrested on July 1, 1862.[23] Although it is uncertain if that was the same Robert Maddox who was earlier accused of volubly wishing the deaths of Union troops, both arrests illustrate the kind of opposition the U.S. forces encountered from the Kentucky citizenry and the perceived offenses that were thought to justify political detention.

Also among the people detained in July 1862 was Thomas L. Jones, a Newport attorney and politician who did not petition the Kentucky governor. In a sworn affidavit, William H. Wagner attested that he heard Jones make two political speeches and described one in which Jones declared that his father’s remains were in South Carolina, that his interests and sympathies were with the South, that he would arm his two sons—who were about ten and twelve years old at the time—with revolvers and “put them on his father’s Grave,” and that Jones would “take a Sword and fight the for the South.” When Wagner next met Jones, he questioned him about these remarks, saying he thought Jones was a Union man.  According to Wagner, “He [Jones] said I am a union man, but he said our rights have been trampled on and I am ready at any time to fight against any Black Republican Government.”[24] The comments reported by Wagner are a reminder that in Kentucky, a citizen’s allegiance could be a complex proposition, at times a shocking blend of Union ardor and virulent racism or a fidelity strained by passionate disagreements with Union war policy.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies and works as a volunteer on the CWGK Team. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory.

Check back with CWGK every Monday in January to read a new editions to Political Detentions in the Civil War.  Continue reading

2019 Graduate Research Associates

Overview: The Kentucky Historical Society seeks two Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) familiar with 19th century United States history to write short informational entries for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK). GRAs will receive a stipend of $5,000 each and can work remotely from their home institutions.

Each GRA will annotate 150 assigned documents. Each GRA must be a graduate student in at least the second year of a M.A. program in history or a related humanities discipline. These positions are funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives. This continues a successful two-year program that has involved 10 GRAs

CWGK is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the commonwealth, 1860-1865. Yet CWGK is not solely about the five governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. CWGK will identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found in its documents. This web of hundreds of thousands of networked nodes will dramatically expand the number of actors in Kentucky and U.S. history, show scholars new patterns and hidden relationships, and recognize the humanity and agency of historically marginalized people. To see the project’s work to date, visit discovery.civilwargovernors.org.

Scope of Work: Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on named persons, places, organizations, and geographical features in 150 documents. Each document contains an average of fifteen such entities. This work will be completed and submitted to CWGK for fact-checking before December 1, 2019.

Research and writing will proceed according to project guidelines concerning research sources and methods, editorial information desired, and adherence to house style. This will ensure 1) that due diligence is done to the research of each entity and 2) that information is recorded for each item in uniform ways which are easy to encode and search.

All research for the entries must be based in primary or credible secondary sources, and each GRA is expected to keep a virtual research file with notes and digital images of documents related to each entry. These will be examined regularly by the CWGK team as they fact check the GRA output and turned over to CWGK at the completion of the work. CWGK will fact-check all entries for research quality and adherence to house style. CWGK projects an average rate of one document annotated per two hours of work. Each GRA may expect their workload to be similar to adding on another class for the semester. They should expect to complete an average of 4 to 5 documents per week, though this may vary.

Each GRA will work remotely. Interaction with the documents and the writing of annotations will take place in a web-based annotation tool developed for CWGK, which can be dialed into from any location. CWGK will make use of online research databases to make its work efficient and uniform. Other archival sources may be of value but are not required by the research guidelines. Securing access to the paid databases required by CWGK (Ancestry.com, Fold3.com, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Louisville Courier Journal) is the responsibility of the GRA. If regular institutional access to these databases is not available to the GRA through a university or library, it is the responsibility of the GRA to purchase and use a subscription to these databases. KHS will not reimburse the GRA for any travel, copying, or other expenses incurred in CWGK research.

In order to maintain quality and consistency as well as to foster a collegial and collaborative work culture, CWGK will conduct weekly virtual “office hours” via Google Hangouts, during which GRAs are required to dial in, ask questions of staff, share expertise and research methods, and make connections with their peers. Virtual attendance at these office hours is mandatory, and multiple sessions may be offered to accommodate schedules.

The Kentucky Historical Society will hold copyright for all annotation research as work for hire.

Evaluation Criteria: A proposal should consist of at least a narrative statement of professional ability in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included.

Proposal materials should be submitted to Patrick Lewis at patrick.lewis@ky.gov by no later than February 4, 2019. Any questions about the GRA program may be directed to Lewis as well.

The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the proposals based on the following factors:

Research Experience (70 points): Describe your familiarity with research in 19th century U.S. history. Describe some projects you have undertaken. What sources have you used? Have you been published? Have you interpreted historical research in forms other than a scholarly peer-reviewed publication? Discuss how a digital archival experience differs from your traditional archival experience.

Project Experience (30 points): Describe any work you have done in the editing of historical documents. Discuss how a project such as CWGK maintains balance between thorough research and production schedules. Have you worked on other collaborative projects in the field of history or otherwise? Describe the importance of time management and deadlines in your work. Describe your understanding of and/or experience with the Digital Humanities. From what you know of the CWGK project, how does it fit with current trends in the field? What do you hope to gain from working on the CWGK project?

CWGK Best of 2018

The Best of 2018

2018 was an eventful year for CWGK. Numerous teachers, students, researchers, fellows have accessed and utilized the database. 2018 also saw the publication of our 1,000th document. We also started #MondayMystery on social media to help our team discover more Kentuckians.

To recap our year, we’ve organized a series of “Best of” lists that chronicle everything from our individual takes on the most Tragic Case (deaths) in Civil War Kentucky to the one place we would like to travel back to. We hope you’ll enjoy reading these lists these as much as we enjoyed creating them

1.) MOST TRAGIC CASE: The database does not lack unusual and/or gruesome deaths. Each editor has selected the most memorable demise so we asked the CWGK Team to determine the most tragic case in the Archive.

Natalie: While taking refuge for the night in a church, a sleeping man was bludgeoned to death and robbed of the six dollars in his possession. The accused were two men whom the victim had met at a turnpike only one mile from his place of rest. As the three men had traveled together to the church, the victim was evidently unaware that he had anything to fear. To make matters even worse, his body wasn’t discovered until 17 days after the murder had taken place. “I consider this the most aggravated, cold blooded and unprovoked murder I ever heard of,” wrote C. D. Shean, asking that a reward be offered for the capture of the accused men. (KYR-0001-005-0009)

Emily: Thomas Edrington while in a fit from severe alcohol deprivation murdered his wife. He suffered from a severe form of Alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens. In a petition to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette in 1863, he asked for executive clemency from the verdict of manslaughter based on the defense of insanity. “It like to Broke my poor heart to think of sutch A thing as that to loose my nearest and dearest friend whitch those that knowed us has often said they never seen A more happyer Couple in there life than we were we never had anny Malice towards each other” stated Edrington, in his plea to be released from the verdict and state prison. (KYR-0001-004-0160)

Graduate Research Assistant: Taylor County brothers Merritt and Vardiman Dicken, about 23 and 21 years-old respectively, were both shot and killed in early December 1864 while searching for their stolen mule. They first encountered trouble at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Rinehart in Marion County. Two strangers arrived there on horse and pretended to act as their guides until shooting them both with pistols. The wounded brothers escaped and came upon Michael Foley, a railroad worker and Union Army veteran, who mistook the Dickens for Confederate guerillas and attempted to arrest them. Merritt Dicken refused to surrender and, as he attempted to escape, Foley shot and killed him. Vardiman Dicken died of his wound days later. Governor Thomas E. Bramlette pardoned Foley of his murder charge, believing that he made an “honest mistake” and stated, “No man who kills a guerilla should suffer if I can prevent it.” (KYR-0001-004-1380)

2.) MOST MEMORABLE NAMES: Our editors have compiled a list of the Top 5 most memorable names encountered in the CWGK database in 2018. You can search these names here.

  1. Rye Curry
  2. Michael Scott
  3. Queen Victoria Lucas (daughter of Squire Lucas)
  4. Liberty Langford (who was arguing that a public road shouldn’t be built over his property)
  5. Joel Noel

3.) THE TIMELESS TRAVEL: Finally, we’ve asked each editor to select one place from the CWGK archive that they would most like to visit.

Natalie: I would most like to visit the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort, Kentucky, specifically on the evening of February 24, 1863, to attend the reception held by the governor and Kentucky government in honor of the Union Ladies of Kentucky. With attendees counting among Kentucky’s high society, I’m sure discussions were held that shaped the course of the state’s history. And who wouldn’t love to see 1860s fashion on full display? (KYR-0362-001-0001)

Emily: Located in Kenton County, Latonia Springs was the hot spot for society during the Summer and during outbreaks of disease. Similar to the mineral springs in Bath, England, Latonia served as a retreat to help cure all ills.  I would most like to “take the waters” and discuss with those who anticipated the war in 1860. During the Civil War the springs transformed into a convalescence space. While it would be a fascinating place to visit today, the Springs closed in 1910. (O00009485)

Graduate Research Assistant: The Steamer St. Patrick traveled between Louisville, Kentucky; Cairo, Illinois; and Memphis, Tennessee on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the mid-1860s as the Civil War reached its conclusion. Along with Fulton County minister Nathaniel N. Cowgill, who wrote to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette in May 1865 from this steamboat, passengers witnessed both times of war and peace in this border region where the North meets the South. I would most like to board the St. Patrick at this time to view the landscapes, speak with men and women regarding the current events, and to better understand what Kentucky and its neighbors experienced during this era. (KYR-0002-225-0068)

4.) MOST OUTRAGEOUS STATEMENT: Our documents are not short on their own humor or scandalous affairs. Each member of the staff was tasked with finding their favorite one-liners.

Natalie: “His wife is a poor distressed woman, and the condition of her husband Makes her nearly crazy.” (About the wife of a “no good” man who was imprisoned for quarreling–KYR-0001-020-1212)

Emily: “May the Lord grant that these Duch and all the Duch in Lincoln Army May be Put in front of Batle for they are all Aboliost.” The petitioner here was mad at the Dutch for starting a fight and then joining the Union Army, and you guessed it, he was a Confederate supporter. (KYR-0001-020-1219)

Graduate Research Assistant: “Mr Darnall, I think, too young for such an important position besides, he has been Connected I understood with negro recruiting, which you know would to a great extent paralyze his usefulness.” Maysville’s Robert A. Cochran changed his mind about signing a petition a few days before, and here he does not hide his opposition to Darnall commanding a local militia company. (KYR-0002-225-0070)

5.) MOST REFUSED PARDON: A major component of the CWGK archive is requests for executive clemency. We asked the team to identify a document where they believe the evidence was there for the pardon, but the Governor seemed to have an “off” day.

Natalie: Richard Lucas from Shelby County was fined $200 for keeping a tippling house, though he claims to have had a federal license to sell alcohol. He begs Governor Bramlette to remit his fine as he is dying from tuberculosis and it is unlikely he will recover, and he does not wish to burden his family with the fee. His neighbors confirm in his petition that he had a license at the time, is an honest man, and is undoubtedly dying from the disease. Gov. Bramlette refuses him a pardon. What makes Bramlette’s refusal even more tragic, in my opinion, is that the document shows that he initially offered a 12-month respite, but crossed it out and wrote “Refused” instead. Even a respite would have been a little more compassionate! (KYR-0001-004-0563)

Emily: We don’t often come across a continuous set of “Refused” pardon request. However, between February and March 1864, Thomas E. Bramlette consistently refused these request to help individual Kentuckians. I know, I know, it is his prerogative to give clemency but I mean come on. Fingers crossed as we get into April 1864, he changes his tune.

From #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription

It is always unsatisfying when transcribing a document to not be able to determine a word, phrase, or name. In July, I was working on a document when I came across a name that I could not decipher. After showing the name to the CWGK team, we were all stumped. So, what now? Do we just let this person fall back into the depths of history? I was disgruntled by our defeat.

After a discussion of what to do, we found our solution: social media. I am not a native Kentuckian (though some of my co-workers are), but I thought, who better to look at these signatures than people with ties to the Commonwealth? Who knows–maybe a signature could be a long-lost family member.

Social media users, such as those on Facebook and Twitter, put on their thinking caps and came to our rescue. Every Monday the Kentucky Historical Society post an image of a signature from one of the CWGK documents using the hashtag #MysteryMonday and ask our social media followers to help us decipher the name. In our first week one we discovered the name with ease, and I began to hope this process would open up more doors— I wasn’t wrong.

On August 13, 2018, we posted a signature that I NEVER thought would be determined. In less than one hour, the Kenton County Public Library swooped in and named our mystery person. Who knew success would taste this sweet? Well, I got a little too excited, because over the next three weeks, CWGK and social media were left without resolution. This, as it turned out, would be our longest streak without a name.

But wait! On September 10, one of our Facebook followers ended up identifying a signature that we had already deemed unrecognizable. Not only did Mr. Bigwood give us the name in the 1860 census record (this is where we check the names; every signature has to be corroborated by a primary source), but he gave us historical context. He stated that “This is old Germanic script. You can tell because of the distinctive ‘H’ which looks like it has been tilted on its side (the third letter), and the distinctive ‘a’ which immediately follows it. The signature reads “Johannes Dolle.” His insight has helped our researchers to look at names a bit differently in the transcribing stage.

Over the course of the last six months, with the help of social media, CWGK has discovered 16 out of the 23 names published online. Not too shabby!

As we approach the New Year, we are making some changes! First, we will be replacing the #MondayMystery to #TuesdayTranscription. We do this to keep true to the type of work the CWGK team conducts. And we wanted to have a hashtag (#) that would be unique to our postings. We look forward to starting 2019 with a clear perspective. Take a minute and click through our map to look at the locations where we traveled together on Mondays during 2018.

Don’t forget to follow The Kentucky Historical Society on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with #TuesdayTranscription and other CWGK projects.

On the Border of Freedom

Sometimes when starting a new project or phase in life everything around you becomes overwhelming. I am not a Kentuckian, nor by training am I a civil war historian. However, over the course of the last three months one thing is evident as I write this post: Why do I know so little about a state, that for all intents and purposes is “Southern”? This question and my larger goals of wanting my first experience in the “real world” to be successful, led me to dive deep into my work. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) is a hidden gem in the realm of digital history. Not only has CWGK developed a unique way to examine the office of the governor, but each document is translated, annotated, and researched. The team assembled to work on this project made it possible for students, teachers, and scholars to do primary source research from their home. As part of learning about my new State (aside from the Kentucky Derby), I am taking a step back and spending my days with the Civil War Governors of Kentucky and their constituents. Which has led me to understand the internal struggle that the US faced was truly felt by all individuals, maybe more in Kentucky than others.

In July, I was brought on to the CWGK team to research and develop educational materials for all levels of scholars through an NEH Grant. I never thought that I would spend my days reading about how the tensions of the Civil War affected everyday individuals. However, that is just what happened. Over the course of the next few months, I hope you will follow along as I highlight some short narratives about the individual struggles Kentuckians faced in the war years. This week we start just prior to secession in Henderson County, Kentucky.

April 1, 1860, just south of Henderson, Kentucky, Dr. Walter Alves Norwood lay on the ground of his stable, dead.[1] Moments prior, a runaway slave known to those in the town as Jim Brown pulled a gun on the doctor and shot him. While members of the community wrote to Governor Beriah Magoffin requesting he take action, others took to the woods in search of the slave. The problem here, and in other places, revolved around the fact that Kentucky bordered the slave holding south and the free north. Henderson County lies along the Ohio River and Indiana— freedom. This was not the first time that Jim Brown escaped the home of his mistress Ms. Pentecost. In 1859, Brown fled the state for the freedom of Indiana for more than three months before returning to his mistress.[2] Robert Glass wrote to Governor Magoffin stating that, “It is feared that he [John Brown] has gone to Indiana (where the stepfather of his mistress lives & who harbored him for four months last year while runaway).”[3] Accounts indicate that John Brown had a wife and on multiple occasions he requested to see, but was continually denied. While Ms. Pentecost owned John Brown, Mr. Furna Cannon owned Brown’s wife. Determined to be with his wife, Brown once again ran away. Being on this border of freedom, “The [Ohio] river held both terror and hope for slaves and made slavery in Henderson County more complicated.”[4]  Slaves could see their freedom, but could not have it. After the death of Dr. Norwood, Captain Bill Quinn lead a search party, equipped with bloodhounds, into the woods and fields to flush out Brown. Their initial searches proved unsuccessful. Wanting to capture the murderer the citizens issued a reward of $500.00 for the “capture, ‘dead or alive’ of the slave ‘Jim Brown’… In addition it is expected that the Governor of the state will offer a reward for his apprehension.”[5] After a continued search of the county, John Quinn, Bunk Hart, and John H. Marshall discovered Brown hiding in the barn of William J. Marshall—John H. Marshall, “fired, the ball striking him [brown] in the right temple, causing instant death.”[6] His murderers were exonerated on the belief that they did what was best for the community. This is not an unusual story to most historians. However, the distinctiveness of Henderson County and the question of slavery, may give more insight as to why Kentucky held a unique position in the full picture of the civil war and why, it is time to reexamine how the commonwealth fits into that narrative.

I hope that you will continue this journey with me as I discover more about the individuals in Kentucky that sought advice or help from the office of the Governor, and what it meant to live in a state that allowed slavery, but aligned with the federal government in the war on slavery.

To use the story of Jim Brown and Dr. Norwood in your classroom click here.

Emily Moses is a Research Associate with the CWGK team. Her work focuses on conducting annotation research and amplifying the outreach efforts to audiences of formal and informal learners.

___________________________________________________________________

[1] Alex H. Major to Beriah Magoffin,  3 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Apprehension of Fugitives from Justice Papers, 1859-1862,  MG8-114 to MG8-115,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-021-0029.[2] Please note that the letter indicates that the Slave was brought back to his owner, Ms. Pentecost but it does not state if he came back on his own volition or if he was captured by bounty hunters.[3] Robert Glass to Beriah Magoffin,  4 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Apprehension of Fugitives from Justice Papers, 1859-1862,  MG8-112 to MG8-113,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-021-0028.[4] King, Gail, Susan Thurman, and Susan Thurman. Currents: Henderson’s River Book. Henderson, Ky.: Mail Orders to Henderson County Public Library, 1991. Held by the Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY.[5] F. A. Cannon et al., Five Hundred Dollars Reward!,  4 April 1861,  Office of the Governor, Beriah Magoffin: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Petitions for Pardons and Remissions, 1859-1862,  MG19-518,  Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0001-020-0958.[6] Starling, Edmund. History of Henderson County, Kentucky: Comprising history of county and city, precincts, education, churches, secret societies, leading enterprises, sketches and recollections, and biographies of the living and dead. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic Inc., 1965. P.560-561

Slavery, Sexual Violence, and the Law

That slavery and slaveholders often subjected the enslaved to sexual exploitation, coercion, and assault has been well documented by scholars and by ex-slave narrators like Harriet Jacobs and Louisa Picquet, both of whom endured unwanted sexual advances.[1] For at least two of slavery’s survivors, and probably countless more, the guerrilla conflict that engulfed Kentucky late in the Civil War also brought with it an additional danger of sexual violence. [2] Incomplete though they are, what follows are the stories of these two women—what they endured; how it was preserved in the historical record; and what that tells us about the politics of sex, race, gender, and the law on the cusp of slavery’s demise.

In November 1864, Hugh H. Martin, a Greenville farmer and avowed Unionist, wrote to Thomas Bramlette to “complain of the conduct of some of the men calling themselves State Guards.”[3] Eight to ten days earlier while a group of men under the command of Sebastian C. Vick commandeered a wagonload of corn from Martin’s property, one of the men “pursued and caught” a slave woman owned by Martin and “despite her resistance committed violence on her.” Since then, wrote Martin, the woman and her husband and been “greatly distressed and outraged, and I as their protector feel deeply injured.”[4] The identity of the woman is unknown, as Martin never names her in the letter. He mentions only that she was the wife of his favorite slave and that the couple had two children. The U.S. census shows that Martin owned four enslaved persons in 1860—three males ages 10, 18, and 36 and one woman who was 23 years old at the time.[5] But it is unclear if she is the same woman of whom Martin wrote. What is clear is the paternalism that permeates Martin’s account of sexual violence. Although he acknowledged that the woman and her husband felt “greatly distressed and outraged,” he also managed to make the assault, ultimately, about his perceived injury as a slaveholder. By styling himself as the couple’s “protector,” Martin conjured a favorite argument of slavery’s defenders that figured the relationship between master and slave as tantamount to that between parent and child. It portrayed bondspeople as perpetual children in need of protection and obscured the reality of slavery as a violent, exploitative institution in which the master benefitted from slaves’ expropriated labor. In reporting his own feelings of deep injury, Martin also gestured toward a feature of 19th century jurisprudence. In a case of sexual assault against a slave, an antebellum slaveowner might sue another white man for damages to his legal property, but the enslaved had no legal recourse; if the owner of the enslaved committed the assault, the law demanded no culpability.[6] The crime of rape against an adult slave did not exist until shortly before the Civil War, when an 1861 Georgia statute expanded the definition of rape to include victims both slave and free. [7]  In Kentucky, the law defined rape specifically in terms of gender and race: “Whoever shall unlawfully and carnally know any white woman [emphasis added], against her will or consent, or by force, or whilst she is insensible, shall be guilty of rape.”[8] Not until February of 1866 could black or multiracial Kentuckians charge a white person with a crime, and then only by affidavit; they could be witnesses in criminal proceedings only against other African-Americans.[9] In a time and place where the law did not acknowledge sexual violence against African-Americans as a crime, the assault committed against the unnamed enslaved woman was ultimately recorded in the grievance registered by the man who owned her as property. Hugh Martin complained to the governor that he could not expect “protection or redress” from officers who could not keep their men in line, but at the time, if there had been any possibility of redress, it would have been Martin’s to seek, not that of the woman who had endured the assault.

Martin also felt compelled to assure the governor of his belief that the enslaved spouses were “faithful to one another.”[10] That Martin thought this detail material to the case betrays, if not his own acceptance, then at least an awareness of the derogatory stereotype of bondspeople as promiscuous. Specifically, Martin may have wanted to dispel the idea that the woman who was assaulted resembled in any way the cultural myth of the Jezebel, the unchaste African-American woman who was, according to Deborah Gray White, “the counterimage of the mid-nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady.”[11] A number of factors contributed to the myth of Jezebel in the minds of white Americans,  including the fact that slavery left the bodies of female slaves exposed–whether due to ragged clothing, methods of punishment, or the intrusive examinations to which they were subjected on the auction block—and the concubinage often imposed by the men who owned them.[12] Even when the law seemed prepared to punish predation against enslaved children, it managed to reinforce the Jezebel stereotype. In Kentucky the “rape upon the body of an infant under the age of twelve years,” was punishable by death, and the statute did not specify the race of the victim.[13] But such a statute, even if used to prosecute the sexual abuse of an enslaved child–as Peter Bardaglio has argued about a Mississippi law that established the same age of consent–essentially codified the Jezebel myth into law by implying that slaves older than twelve could not be raped because they were, to borrow Bardaglio’s phrase,  “incapable of withholding consent.”[14]

Within a few weeks of the assault in Greenville, a band of about twenty-five guerrillas carried out a robbery and murder spree in Washington County, leaving four men dead.[15] One of the leaders, Samuel O. Berry, was later tried for his guerrilla activities by a U.S. military commission. The charges included fourteen murders, six counts of robbery, and two counts of rape. The trial was held in Louisville and covered extensively by the Daily Courier, which published a daily transcript of the testimony. Among the prosecution witnesses was a Nelson County freedwoman named Laura, who testified that she had been raped by Berry at gunpoint. “I cried and begged him not to,” Laura told the prosecutor, “but he would do it; he had his pistol drawn on me all the time.” Asked if she was a free woman at the time of the assault, Laura answered, “Well, I supposed I was what was called ‘free’; I had a husband in the army.” Her response seemingly hinted at a disparity between the legal qualification of freedom and the reality of Laura’s living situation at the time, but it was also essential to her ability to testify. Before he began his cross-examination, Berry’s attorney moved to have Laura’s testimony excluded because of her color and on the grounds that she had been a slave at the time of the assault. Implicit in his motion was the abhorrent suggestion that these two factors somehow rendered the violence against Laura insignificant, that her color and her enslaved status negated her right to seek legal redress against her rapist. And that might have been the case but for the one critical factor that her husband was in the army. Legally, this made her a free woman at the time of the assault. Her testimony would stand.[16]

On cross-examination, the defense asked all manner of intrusive and degrading questions in an attempt to blame and discredit the witness. Why hadn’t she run away or called for help? “I was afraid to,” replied Laura, who testified that her child was also upstairs in the house where the rape occurred and that Berry held a pistol the whole time. The defendant, who reportedly lost his hand above the wrist in an industrial accident before the war, was widely known as “One-Armed Berry.”[17] Throughout the trial, as the attorney for the defense attempted to challenge witness identifications of Berry, his efforts were undermined when people who did not know Berry personally, cited this distinguishing feature as the means by which they recognized him during the commission of various crimes. In cross-examining Laura, the defense tried to use this disability—which had not seemed to interfere with Berry’s marauding—as a way to cast doubt on her testimony. “How could he ravish you if he kept his pistol in his hand all the time?” the attorney asked. Laura’s terse and matter-of-fact reply suggests she was unflappable: “Well, he did it.” “I want to know how he did it,” the attorney persisted. Again, Laura stated, “He ravished me with his pistol in his hand.” The attorney turned to another line of questioning: “Did this party that went up stairs with you offer you any money?” In the exchange that followed, Laura revealed that the assailant had given her a quarter “after he got through and [was] just ready to come downstairs.”[18] Though he did not say as much directly, the implication of the defense’s question was that the monetary transaction had rendered the incident an act of prostitution for which Laura was financially compensated. But Laura stated repeatedly throughout her testimony that her assailant had held a gun and that fear prevented her from running away or calling for help. No wonder she did not refuse the coin, as that act might have provoked the rapist to shoot Laura or harm her child.

Berry was found guilty of being a guerrilla and of the various specifications of robbery, rape, and murder. He received a sentence of death, but this was later commuted to ten years in prison.[19] That Laura’s status as a free woman and, thus, the admission of her testimony hinged on her marriage to a U.S. soldier highlights the reality that emancipation and the citizenship rights of freedpeople rested largely on the military service of African-American men. Laura was able to tell her story and to speak for herself in the public record. Still, it was her relationship to her husband that made that possible. Laura’s case can hardly be read as a sweeping victory for the formerly enslaved who endured sexual exploitation and assault in slavery. It seems unlikely that the rape would have been prosecuted had it not been one in a litany of charges brought in a U.S. military court against an infamous guerrilla leader.  But in a justice system that was more apt to treat victims like the anonymous enslaved woman owned by Hugh H. Martin, it was a notable, if rare, instance in which a survivor had her day in court.

Christina K. Adkins has a PhD in American Studies. Her work focuses on slavery and cultural memory.

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[1] Harriet Jacobs, 1861, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003, https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jacobs/jacobs.html; Louisa Picquet,1861, Louisa Picquet, the Octoroon: or Inside Views of Southern Domestic Life, Documenting the American South, University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003, https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/picquet/picquet.html.

[2] On guerrilla war in Kentucky, see especially Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009) 220-25.

[3] Martin and at least one other correspondent, W. H. Faris, questioned whether Vick and his men had the governor’s approval to operate as members of the State Guard. Faris reported to the governor that Vick had been  “acting out the most complete military force that has come to pass during this war” and warned Bramlette that if Vick and his men were allowed to continue a controversial policy of impressment, they would grow bolder and “a vast amount of civil injuries…will grow out of this thing,” W. H. Faris to Thomas E. Bramlette,  10 August 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-225-0052

[4] H. H. Martin to Thomas E. Bramlette,  11 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-225-0059.

[5] Eighth Manuscript Census of the United States (1860), Slave Schedules, Kentucky, Muhlenberg County, District 1, p. 8.

[6] Peter W. Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, And the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 66.

[7] Peter W. Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, And the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 68.

[8] Richard Stanton, Revised Statutes of Kentucky, Approved and Adopted By the General Assembly, 1851 And 1852, And In Force From July 1, 1852, vol. 1 (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1867) 379-80.

[9] Harvey Meyers, ed., A Digest of the General Laws of Kentucky: Enacted by the Legislature, Between the Fourth Day of December, 1859, And the Fourth Day of June, 1865: Embracing the General Laws Passed Since the Publication of Stanton’s Edition of the Revised Statutes : With Notes of the Decisions of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky : With an Appendix Containing the Laws of the Winter Session, 1865-’66 (Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1866), 735-36.

[10] H. H. Martin to Thomas E. Bramlette,  11 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-225-0059.

[11] Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, rev. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 29.

[12] White, Ar’n’t I a Woman, 31-34.

[13] Stanton, Revised Statutes, 379.

[14] Bardaglio, Reconstructing the Household, 68.

[15] Richard J. Browne to Thomas E. Bramlette,  29 November 1864,  Guerilla Letters,  Document Box 1, Folder G. L. 1864,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-225-0060

[16] William L. Myers and Albert E. Cochran, “Trial of One-Armed Berry, the Guerrilla: Second Day’s Proceedings,” The Louisville Daily Journal (Louisville, Ky.), Jan 17, 1866, p. 1.

[17] “Sam Berry’s Lost Arm,” Louisville Daily Courier, (Louisville, Ky.), January 26, 1866, p. 3.

[18] Myers and Cochran, “Trial of One-Armed Berry,” 1.

[19] The Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 10, February- July 1866, ed., Paul H. Bergeron (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 249.