Translation: William Brockman

“William Brockman says that at the present term of the Jefferson Circuit Court he was tried on an Indictment for the murder of one Adolph Logel”

Two German immigrants got into a deadly fight over a pile of animal carcasses in the suburbs of Louisville. Read the full transcription of Brockman’s pardon petition here, or browse the highlights to see why this is one of the most fascinating documents in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky collection.

“[Brockman] lives in the suburbs of Louisville not far from the old Oakland Race Course at which point the general government Keeps stabled a large number of horses and mules &c the chief part of which have been worn out in the military service of the government”

Though Oakland, one of thoroughbred racing’s popular early venues, had ceased to hold meets by the beginning of the war, its old stable facilities were perfect for the U.S. Army’s program to refit broken down cavalry, artillery, and draft animals. As the map of the southern suburbs of Louisville shows, the course sat astride the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line, affording military transport trains easy access to the large complex of stables and corrals around the old track. LouisvilleDefenses1865Brockman zoom

“considerable numbers of these animals die daily and the persons having them in charge were in the habit of hauling them to a strip of woods near petitioner’s House and there leaving them to rot”

Using the 1860 census and city directories, we can determine that Brockman lived in the circled suburb near South Gate Street, just barely inside the expanded Louisville city limits. The carcass pile (understandably not marked on the map) was nearby, perhaps in the lot behind Fort St. Clair Morton or the stretch where the military road runs next to the creek near the Salt River Turnpike.

“Your Petitioner had obtained leave to take the skins off of these carcasses on the condition he would remove or burn the carcasses to avoid having a nusance to the detriment of the health of the neighborhood The deceased Logel without having obtained leave as petitioner did, to take the skins, was in the habit of taking the skins and leaving the carcasses on the ground neither removing or burning them This created a nusance for which petitioner was indicted and fined”

This tells us some important things about Civil War Louisville, specifically how it was a city spatially, demographically, and economically dominated by the war. Waves of German and Irish immigrants — presumably including  Brockman and Logel — had settled in suburban rings outside the core of the old river town in the decade before the war. So when the war brought U.S. soldiers posted to garrison duty and, later, African American refugees fleeing slavery, the human geography of the city pushed out to and beyond the ring of forts on the map.

Sanitary conditions, we might well expect, were horrible as tens of thousands of soldiers and freedpeople crowded together into hastily built barracks, tents, and improvised shelters on poorly drained stretches of Jefferson County farmland. As with laws concerning fugitive slaves, the Louisville civil authorities applied existing public health laws to a human crisis far beyond the reach of local and state legislation to manage. Brockman had been fined for Logel leaving the carcasses to rot, but could Brockman really be blamed for a pile of dead animals the army dumped on near a creek? Bringing charges shows that the city was aware and concerned about the water supply but had no way to do much about the situation.

But what about Brockman’s agreement with the army itself? Other documents in the CWG-K collection suggest that Brockman may have been related to a family of German tanners in the city, which explains his job skinning the dead animals. His “contract” was one of the smallest interactions between the army and merchants, railroad corporations, and river men in the boom-town military micro-economy that sprung up in wartime Louisville. Brockman got horse carcasses, while the L&N — which shipped the poor animals to their final stop — raked in millions in wartime profit and limitless infrastructure work on bridges and tunnels paid for at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.

KYR-0001-004-0787 WB sig“All of which your petitioner would respectfully submit and implore the exercise in his behalf of your Excellency’s clemency
[signed]
translation William Brockman”

Even Brockman’s name needed to be translated and anglicized from its German fraktur script. Only at the end are we clued into the fact that while the petition is written in Brockman’s voice, these are far from his own words.

Moreover, while he is fascinating for scholars today, Brockman’s was probably one of the least important signatures on this petition to Governor Bramlette. William Brockman’s petition carried the weight of some of the leading former Whigs — and, therefore, former anti-immigrant Know Nothings — in Louisville politics and society. Stay tuned for a later post which will explore some of these men and why they would write on behalf of a German tanner’s assistant.

Patrick A. Lewis is Project Director of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.

Subject Guides: Military History

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KYR-0001-003-0003William L. Hurst to Thomas E. Bramlette, Oct. 6, 1863
[W]e have just received information at this office that the military forces known as the 40th Kentucky Regt now Stationed at the Town of Grayson in Carter County, (distant about 25 miles from this place) are ordered to move immediately & Station at Mountsterling Ky, which when they are thus removed will leave this part of the Country exposed to the Raids of Rebel Guerrillas…. I find that they eighth & ninth Congressional Districts of Ky have furnished more Volunteers than any other part of the state & have received less Protection than any other part in fact a large section of each District have received no protection at all but the Government through an erroneous disposition of the forces intended for the protection of that part of the state have suffered those people to be robbed murdered and the Country almost desolated by the Rebel Guerrillas East Tennessee has not suffered worse than the People of Morgan, Wolfe Breathitt and adjoining Counties

KYR-0001-003-0050Brutus J. Clay to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jan. 15, 1864
The subject of recruiting Negro soldiers for U S service, in Kentucky. It is rumored here that Agents have been sent from other states for that purpose. This thing of plundering our people ought & should be stopped if possible, even recruiting for our own quota would be injurious & demoralizing to our Slave population by the consent and approval of the owner himself I think a firm stand taken by you against it, would have a good effect and even prevent the U. S. Government, from attempting it in our State.

KYR-0001-003-0077William S. King to Thomas E. Bramlette, Feb. 21, 1864
In view of the frequent applications made at this office, by the destitute families of volunteers in Kentucky regiments, for relief which the Federal Military Commanders have no authority to provide; and in asmuch as this destitution is caused by the neglect of soldiers to transmit much,—or, in most cases any part,—of their pay to their families for their support; I venture to suggest to Your Excellency, that enquiry be made whether the allotment system; whereby each soldier devotes a stated portion of his pay for the support of those dependent upon him, is carried out in the various regiments; or that such other action may be had, to prevent this needless pauperism and distress, as to Your Excellency may seem meet and proper.

KYR-0001-003-0083Volney Baker to Cicero Maxwell, Apr. 5, 1864
During last court, all the Judges presented to the Grand jury, which was Entirely secession; and two of the men, who presented the Judges were the, Circuit Judge, and the County Judge—The entire Court was one of treason, and numberd out with traitors; … The meanest set of secessionists that ever existed under the canopy of Heaven, live in this immediate section of Ky; and we must adopt means, & severe ones too, to prevent a resistance which is almost sure to take place sooner or later, unless prevented

KYR-0001-018-0019N. Wickliffe to Beriah Magoffin, Jun. 11, 1861
I have just resigned my position as an officer in the United States Army. I am impelled to this course for the reason that that army is being concentrated and used for the subjugation of the Southern people who have my entire sympathy. I believe it is proper for me, here, to add that the time has come to pass when Southern blood is sufficient to attaint officers of the army; and unless they subscribe to new oaths, join bond in denouncing their late comrades of the south (who were the best men of the Army) as traitors, and invoke a war of extermination on their own people, and kindred suspicion and proscription are put upon them. I am unable at this distance to understand the exact position that Kentucky occupies in the great struggle between the
two sections, but I cannot believe that she can or will remain long a neutral spectator

KYR-0001-028-0015 E. W. Hawkins to James F. Robinson, Aug. 23, 1862
At the time of the first call of the President for volunteers, several citizens of this city immediately volunteered in the famous Ninth Ohio Regiment under the lamented Robert L. McCook, there being no Kentucky regiments then in the field. … These men have shared all the dangers of the severe campaign of Western Virginia, and partook in the splendid Bayonet Charge, which decided the day at Mill Springs, where Kentuckians participated in the glory. They are “Military Men.”, the Lieutenant having served in Germany for a number of years, and the other two having acquired their knowledge during the present war. … The regiment would be exclusively German, who would flock under the banner of these well tried men with alacrity from all parts of our state.

KYR-0001-028-0040Rob Morris and S. W. Hunt to James F. Robinson, Sep. 9, 1862
The Undersigned have enjoyed many military opportunities for military experiences—the former in Texas during the guerilla warfare of 18436-40, the latter for more than 30 years in the organizing and governing militia corps in this Kentucky. … They therefore propose to raise a Regiment of militia for 3. months service … We will go wherever your Excellency directs and subsist on the country trusting on the bounty of Union men and the fears of disloyal men to feed us. If allowed to operate in the section above indicated we will guarantee to afford an efficient military police there—to restore the respect for State and Federal authority now so sadly shaken,—preserve the publlic records, overawe the disloyal and in all the hearts of true men.

KYR-0002-020-0022Julius H. Alexander to James F. Robinson, Apr. 24, 1863
Theare is a memorial sent to you by a few Officers of this Regt recomending Major Bradley to Lieut Colonel of this Regt permit me to say in this note to your Excellency that Major Bradly is not qualified to fill the office that he no hoalds, … and again he doo not know the first Lesson of a Trooper I have Privats in my Comp. that understands Military Tastics then the proposed Lieut Colonel. I have noting to say about myself & non have to say abut me as I am only a Foreigner by Birth, & have to du all the duty, & keept in the Dark.

KYR-0002-022-0077Isaac Fitzpatrick et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, Jun. 27, 1864
Dear Sir we the undersigned citizens of Johnson County State of Ky Between the ages of eighteen and forty five and now in the Military service of Ky camped at Louisa Ky Respectfuly represents and showeth that we are not satisfied with our present colonel Burgess Preston who was appointed to said position we therefore ask that we have the privilege of exercising our Election Franchise and choosing from among our ranks at our next august Election a Colonel and Lieutenat Colonel … If these are our rights we Respectfully ask them If not we humbly acquiesse as loyal citizens to the laws of our country

KYR-0002-022-0121C. Brock to Thomas E. Bramlette, Aug. 16, 1864
Being Judge of this County, the people think it is proper & right that I should make inquiry & endevor to ascertain the number of negroes who are credited to this (Montgomery) County on the rolls in the state Military department at Frankfort. There ^were^ recruited here during the spring from 125 to perhaps 175 negroes, by the U. S. Military Authorities. Now I desire to know how many we have credit for.

KYR-0002-024-0065Curran Pope to James F. Robinson, Oct. 9, 1862
In consideration of the unanimous and strongly expressed wishes of the officers of this Regt who took part in the late battle of Chaplin Hills and of the very gallant conduct on that occasion of Capts Joseph. R. Snider Co “B” and Henry F Kalfus Co “D,” I earnestly recommend that the former be commissioned as Lieut Col and the latter as Major of the Regt, and urge that commissions be immediately forwarded to them to date from Oct 9. 1862, and withdraw any other recommendation made by me, and advise that if any other appointments have been made, they be immediately cancelled.

KYR-0002-036-0039Robert Brown, Affidavit, Aug. 12, 1865
Capt Bridgewater made the promise that when the men captured anything it should belong to them. The promise was made by the then Cap B that all money arising from the sale of these guns ^(some three or four)^ and pistols should be placed to the credit of the Battalion to be equally divided at a future time. states that he saw Capt B. take about $70 in money from a man killed by the command.

KYR-0002-038-0024George H. Travis to Thomas E. Bramlette, Aug. 22, 1864
I went to the “front.”—joined my Command, the 2nd Ky. Battery, and was wounded last April, in a skirmish, in the left arm. My arm was amputated. … Disiring my discharge, I made application for Commission in Colored Troops. in order to get out of the service as a Com. Officer, by resignation. Yet I do not approve the arming of negroes. … I request you to Commission me in some Ky. Regt. to enable me to resign—to get out of service. Will you do so? Having the gift of oratory, I desire to stump the States of Ill. and Ind. for the Candidate of the Chicago Convention. But I cannot do so, as I am now situated. You can enable me to do so. Will you? You can see what influence a Private soldier can have on the Stump who has lost a limb in the service.

KYR-0002-042-0023Daniel W. Lindsey to Edwin M. Stanton, Jul. 11, 1864
Owing to the unsettled state of affairs in Kentucky, his Excellency Gov. Bramlette, proposes to organize a State force to consist of three Battalions; one to be assigned to duty in East Ky, one in the vicinity of Paducah, and one at Frankfort. These forces are intended to aid and assist the Federal troops, and shall be held subject to the call of the District Commander for any service in the State. The Governor proposes to sustain this force at the expense of the State, but to avoid competition with the General Government in the market for supplies, he requests me to ask that you will order the proper United States officers in Kentucky to issue both Commissary and Quartermaster supplies to this force upon requisition, approved by him, to be paid for by the State in General Settlement.

KYR-0002-042-0087John W. Finnell, Receipt to William E. Cox, Sep. 4, 1862
Sept. 4.  To hire of men, drayage & c. & c., in in removing Books & furniture from Adjutant General, Military Boards & Quartermasters Department  $15 50

KYR-0002-042-0091 – Daniel W. Lindsey to John Boyle, Jun. 18, 1864
General: I have the honor to submit the following report, of the defense of the State Capital, against the recent attack of a detachment of Genl. John H. Morgan’s guerilla forces—… On the morning of the 9th the train containing the public property, with a guard composed of the clerks of the various offices, and volunteers from the Militia, and strangers in the City…started for Louisville. When nearing Pleasureville the road was discovered to be on fire. The engine was immediately reversed, and the train attacked by guerillas. … The enemy were found to be occupying all the roads leading into the city. Several attempts were made by them to approach the Arsenal through the Cemetery and by the Railroad, but the shells thrown from the guns at the Fort and a gun at the Arsenal kept them back. … The presence of his Excellency the Governor and Attorney General Harlan animated the men and contributed very materially to the defence of the Fort.

KYR-0002-042-0102Joshua F. Speed to Salmon P. Chase, Mar. 22, 1862
I have filed with the 3d Auditor, in the Treasury Department,—vouchers for money expended by the State of Kentucky, in and of the Govt. in suppressing the rebellion, amounting to Seven Hundred and Eighty six thousand, one Hundred and Ninety three 11/100 Dollars….I am also furnished, with a balance sheet, by our Military Board, showing that they have up to this time, expended in paying, subsisting, arming and equipping, the Kentucky Volunteers.— One Million Seven Hundred and Seventy-two thousand, Six hundred & Seventy-nine 55/100 Dollars…. What I desire, in behalf of the State, whose agent I am, is — that the Government will pay us forty per. cent. of our expenditures. — Out of the remainder, we desire to settle Kentucky’s proportion of the War tax:

KYR-0002-211-0027Samuel G. Suddarth, Receipt to Rutha R. Manion, Apr. 27, 1865
To Cooking and Washing for the State Military Hospital for the Month of December 1863 and month of January 1864 $24 00

KYR-0002-218-0266Thomas E. Bramlette to Daniel W. Lindsey, Nov. 5, 1864
It is of the utmost vital importance to the cause of our Country, that peace be preserved in Kentucky; and that there should be no semblance of Collision between the Civil and military authorities of the State and those of the Federal Government. … To my utter surprise Genl Burbridge without my being able to get a line from him in explanation or otherwise of his intentions has assumed a hostile position—menacing towards the State authorities and forces; and with no shadow of authority or just pretence has been threatening to disband them; and in various ^ways^ apparently sought to provoke collision. A collision with him would be a matter of small moment but I cannot and will not have a collision with the federal forces under his command…and for the additional reason that no folly of others shall make me collide with my Government.

KYR-0002-219-0010Madison C. Johnson to John B. Temple, Oct. 1, 1861
We have placed to the Credit of the Treasurer of Ky for the use of the Military Board the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars—for which we received your certificate according to Law. At this time we have not more than about one hundred thousand dollars in Bank notes, having burnt our notes for safety. … Will you please advise me in what time & manner you expect to draw it out. I presume it will remain on deposit here until your Board disburses it.

KYR-0002-225-0041William R. Thompson to Thomas E. Bramlette, May 28, 1864
My son Lt John V. Thompson, has been trying to raise a company for the ten thousand troops you called for, but there seems not to be much disposition to volunteer the rebels & their sympathies do every thing they can to discourage it; & you have taken the right course, just make them walk right in, a man that wont fight for his country ought not to live in it. I have greatly more respect for the men who are in the field with Jeff. Davis, than for those who are among us plotting the overthrow and destruction of the Government that protects them & all they possess, for them I have no respect, they have been handled with gloves too long.


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Subject Guides: Slavery and Capitalism

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KYR-0001-004-0638Alanson Trigg to Thomas E. Bramlette, Mar. 1864
[Petitioner] could not owing to the condition of the County well bring these negroes from Warren to Barren County, in ^which^ your petitioner resides. Both ^Each^ of them had wives ^a wife^ in Warren County near a farm owned by this Petitioner for many years & on which he had kept his slaves. On selling his farm he did not want to sell his slaves & allowed them to remain in Warren out of humanity. But he placed them in the care & control of John Petty and Wm G Hendrick who promised to take care of & manage them as their own & if the law has been violated your Petitioner says others & not he violated it. Your Petitioner avers that there are not better behaved & more honest slaves any where to be found than the two mentioned in the Indictment & he humbly asks your Excellency to remit the fine imposed upon him

KYR-0001-004-1722 C. A. Wandelhor et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, Apr. 28, 1865
Polly Southgate is a free woman of Color and the slave so permitted to go at large is by the name of Caleb and both her husband and Slave. He makes a living for himself and family be engaging in Such jobs of work as he can get to do in and around Falmouth and the earnings of his labor so performed are the only means of Support for himself and family … Should she be required to pay the full amount of said fine. She will be compelled to sell her Slave and husband to do so. and will then be without any means of Support whatever for herself and children…

KYR-0001-005-0040Benjamin P. Cissell, Affidavit, Jun. 8, 1864
The affiant B P Cissell states that in the year 1856 he qualified as the Guardian for Samuel, William, Sarah, Carrie & Angeline Ten, that Samuel, William & Sarah has arrived at Majority he has divided the property & settled with said parties Carrie & Angiline are girl of quite tender years, & own under said division two slaves each, one owns a small girl & Phil, a man about 26 or 27 yrs old, the other a girl a boy named Dick about 14 years old. That these slaves are all the property said Children own that yield any income to raise & educate them. That for the year 1864 he had hired Phil to D R Burbank for 240$ Dick to same for $225. That neither of said slaves as he verily believes was fit for military duty, one of them, Dick was not even enrolled. That During the late raid of one Col Cunningham ^of the U S Army^ with an armed force of slaves in Union County said two slaves were captured on the farm of said D R Burbank in Union County & carried to Paducah or some part to affiant unknown and have never been returned and affiant has been informed that Said Cunningham insists that all said slaves are now forever free & refuses to allow any of them to return—

KYR-0001-008-0003 Thomas E. Bramlette to Kentucky General Assembly, Feb. 13, 1864
Since the commencement of the rebellion large numbers of fugitive slaves have been arrested and committed to jail, under the provisions of chapter 93, article 6, Revised Statutes.

This statute was framed in reference to peaceful relations, and to ensure those acts of comity, due from one State to another, of the same government.

The law was intended to secure to the owner the return of his slave.

This purpose of the law can not now be accomplished.

The hostile attitude of the other slave States to the position and relations of Kentucky, wholly precludes the owner, in hostile States, from the benefits of the law. He can not come here to prove ownership and reclaim his property. …

For whose benefit is the arrest and committall to be made? The owner can not be profited by it; and no Kentuckian desires to appropriate these fugitives to the public use; nor is it desirable in this questionable mode to increase that population, at this time, with its cumulative evils upon our people, in violation of the spirit of our constitution and the laws pursuant thereto, prohibiting the importation of slaves into this State, as merchandize. No one derives benefit from the law except the captors, who obtain the reward, and speculators, who buy at nominal rates, and by selling, shift the loss upon others.

KYR-0001-020-0438 W. H. Calvert to Beriah Magoffin, Jan. 14, 1861
I therefore beg your Excellency to give me further indulgence on the debts first respited by you until times grow better and money can be come at or until I can get a judgment to sell the land and slaves of James & John Williams for the payment of their debts. There was a division of the slaves of the Estate of Jesse Williams among his children on the 1st of January 1861 and five slaves were alloted to James & John Williams which are in my possession except a man who is in Jail under an indictment for Murder, with $900.00 a Boy aged 16 worth $900.00 a woman aged 40 years worth $700.00 A Boy aged 10 years worth $700.00 a girl aged 14 years worth $700.00 There will be about 160 acres of land coming from said Estate to James & John which will be worth $8.00 an acr all of which which will be sold for their debts to the commonwealth & others—the above is all the property that will be coming to James and John from their Fathers Estate, and I have already as above stated paid out for them nearly five thousand dollars, and am still indebted for them to the Commonwealth nearly four thousand dollars as the representative of their father who was their surety—.

KYR-0001-020-1206 Sparke & Gallagher to Beriah Magoffin, Jul. 23, 1861
Particular attention given to the purchase of Plantation and Levee Supplies
Wm. H. Sparke,
John T. Gallagher.
Office Sparke & Gallagher
Grocers and Commission Merchants.
No. 207 Main Street, between Second and Third
Louisville, July 23rd 1861
Hon. B. Magoffin
Dear Sir

The barer D. C. Kelley we are assured is worthy of the favor he asks at your hands and we hope you may do him the favor of remitting the fine as the party for whome he is bound has enlisted in the Southern armey and it would ruin him pecuniarly to pay the bond.

Very respectfully we remain Your frieneds
Sparke, &, Gallagher

KYR-0001-020-2183 Hiram McElroy et al. to Beriah Magoffin, date unknown
[Petitioners] will State that they verily believe that the death of Said Slave was owing to accident & a want of desertion of said Leonard, and free from any design on his part to take life—That said negro was notoriously vicious headstrong and ungovernable—had been hired out year after year, and was all ways returned to the owner, as soon as his character was ascertained—that Clements had hired him: and he chastisied him with the sole view of making him perform his duty; & not to take life but, said negro afterwards died either from the correction, or from some disease in his system that was superinduced by said correction to produce death

Clements has paid the owner of said negro $1600 for said negro—that he is a young man of fine family, Steady habits & moral character, we therefore pray for your Excellency to grant him a pardon & restore him to the bosom of his family & country & in duty bound they will ever pray &c

KYR-0001-023-0022 James G. Seach to Beriah Magoffin, Feb. 18, 1861
I have recd from Mr. Yancey a copy of his speech in the African Slave trade, delivered in the Alabama Convention the 18th Oct. He takes ground against it viewing it as a question of political economy, contending that the states Composing the Confederacy will have as much slave labor as will be profitable, and he therefore recommends the adoption of a provision in the Constitution prohibiting the introduction of Slaves as merchandize from any foreign source whatever. This will prevent Ky & other slave states that refuse to join the Southern Confederacy from sending their slaves for sale.

From what I can learn since my return this County is largely for Convention. Mr. Wright will have an Editorial in this weeks paper, severely, but I think justly, Commenting on the proceedings of the recent session of the Legislature.

KYR-0003-092-0084 W. H. Johnson to George W. Johnson, Dec. 2, 1860
I have not as yet been able to sell Harriett nor do I believe I shall be able to do ^so^ in the present condition of financial affairs in the country. The negro traders tell me they have not sold one this fall. I offered 2 negro men for sale, at public auction, belonging to the Black estate and did not get a bid on them. The rate of interest on money is so great, that every one who has it prefers it loaning, to investing in negroes or any other description of property. I have known the paper of the best paper houses in Vicksburg to sell for 4 per cent, per month discount. Under these circumstances would it not be better to send Harriett up to Miller’s place? She is doing nothing in Vicksburg. But if you still desire her to remain I will do the best I can, and in this event you must let me know the lowest price you will take for her.

Political affairs in this section are in a most critical condition. All of the Cotton States as they are called with the exception of Texas and Arkansas have called Conventions of their citizens or are preparing to do so. A great desire exists to establish a Southern Confederacy, the only question being how shall it be accomplished? Some are in favour of the immediate secession of each state, and then consult with the other ^slave^ states in regard to forming a Union amongst themselves— Others, and amongst them myself, are in favour of having a general consultation with all the Southern States, before either acts seperately. Having the same rights and interests at stake, I think it would be wrong in any one state to take such a position as would ^force^ others against their wishes to join her, without at least first consulting them on the propriety of the course. What will be the result of this movement, it is impossible to conjecture— It has already depreciated property to a most alarming extent, deranged financial ^matters^ beyond all precedent, and created distrust where good feeling should exist. A few months and these grave questions will all be settled.


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The Conundrum of Gun Control in War-torn Kentucky

By Matthew C. Hulbert

Gun control—particularly when it concerns the ability of private citizens to carry concealed firearms in public—is one of the most controversial and hotly-contested political issues twenty-first-century America has to offer. Conceptions of the past often play a major role in how the debate is framed. When we imagine the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, there’s a tendency to envision everyone (minus slaves) legally carrying a weapon whenever, wherever, and perhaps most importantly, however, he or she wished. From frontiersmen (see Jeremiah Johnson [1972]) and quick-drawing shootists (see The Outlaw Josey Wales [1976]) to gamblers and their belly guns (see Maverick [1994]) or even Jim West’s spring-loaded Derringer (see The Wild West [1965-69]), pop culture has done much to reify that America was, in its “frontier days,” a gun-toting nation. What most observers don’t realize, however, is that this seemingly modern debate over the right to bear arms has actually been raging since the 1860s—and nowhere was it more intense than Civil War Kentucky.

In May 1866, John L. Peyton was indicted in the Hopkins Circuit Court for carrying “concealed deadly weapons,” which essentially meant that he’d left home with a revolver tucked under his coat or hidden in a pocket. The law in Kentucky that regulated concealed weapons dated back to March 1854:

Sec. I. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: That if any person shall hereafter carry concealed any deadly weapons, other than an ordinary pocket knife, except as provided in the next section, he shall be fined on the first conviction not less than fifty nor more than one hundred dollars, and on any subsequent conviction not less than one hundred nor more than five hundred dollars.

Sec. II. That the carrying of concealed deadly weapons shall be legal in the following cases:

  1. Where the person has reasonable grounds to believe his person, or the person of some of big family, or his property, is in danger from violence or crime.
  2. Where sheriffs, constables, marshals, and policemen carry such weapons as are necessary to their protection in the efficient discharge of their duty.
  3. Where persons are required by their business or occupation to travel during the night, the carrying concealed deadly weapons during such travel.

Sec. III. This act shall be given in charge by the judges to the grand juries.

According to his supporters, Peyton had good reason not to travel in Hopkins County without a gun. In February 1866, he’d been appointed the Superintendent of Freedman’s Affairs there and charged with overseeing the transition from bondage to citizenship of the area’s African American population. Neither task nor title won Peyton many new friends among local Conservative Unionists (those who’d remained loyal to the Union for sake of protecting the institution of slavery) or among Rebel guerrilla bands (some of whom hadn’t yet called it quits in 1866).

Peyton’s defenders dispatched a petition to Governor Thomas E. Bramlette requesting that the charge be dropped. Their plea was based on two mitigating factors. First, that “being an officer of law, duly appointed, and acting and believing it to be his [Peyton’s] right and that the circumstances eminently justified it, did carrying a Colts Navy Revolver about the country for protection, during a part of his term of office.” And second, “that it would have been unsafe for said Peyton or any one else in the discharge of a similar office in said county, to have gone unarmed in the country, owing to the presence of late Guerrillas and lawless characters, who would have delighted to murder the ‘Nigger Bureau’ as he was decisively and maliciously called by them.” In other words, Peyton’s circumstances adhered to the letter of the law; carrying a concealed weapon was a de facto requirement of his job and to condemn a man in his line of work for doing so was like asking him to commit suicide.

This was a problem Noah Allen faced a county away while defending himself against an identical charge in the Crittenden Circuit Court. Though not an agent of the Freedman’s Bureau, Allen was a discharged Federal soldier (formerly of the 17th Kentucky Cavalry) and, like many of his ilk, had been allowed to retain his sidearm for purposes of personal protection. Petitioners on his behalf noted that the “country was filled with desperate men, and Union soldiers were being murdered everywhere.” Worse still, while the law appeared to favor Allen’s case, the men doing the murdering seemed to control the justice system. “Our Rebel jury,” Allen’s supporters continued, “were not satisfied until he [Allen] was indicted” even though “Rebels carry their arms every where and not one have they ever been indicted.”

A few years prior to the petitions from Peyton and Allen, Bramlette had been asked to intervene in the legal proceedings against Richard Murray (1863) and Brutus J. Clay (1864). Murray, of Munfordville, Kentucky, was convicted of possessing a concealed deadly weapon and fined $100 when a revolver he was apparently hiding in his pants discharged and resulted in a serious injury. According to a petition penned on Murray’s behalf, he was unable to pay the $100 penalty for carrying the weapon because “he is now a cripple and will be for life” as a result of his self-inflicted wound.

skein imageClay, the son of noted Kentuckian Cassius M. Clay (and the namesake of Cassius’s brother, Brutus), was walking along the road one afternoon and stopped to throw a rock at a pigeon; he missed, and the stone projectile struck a bridge house. The bridge keeper, a Mr. Gale, became enraged and threatened to assault Clay—but retreated when the young man produced a revolver that had been concealed in his clothing. While their situations seem far more trivial than former Union soldiers being hunted by pro-Confederate guerrillas or a man accidentally shooting himself in the leg—and while neither seemed to meet the justifications for concealed carry as stipulated by state law—Bramlette granted each a pardon because he believed that “in a time of Civil War when every loyal man ought to be armed for defense; I think none should be fined for being armed.”

The cases of Peyton, Allen, Murray, and Clay underscored a set of deep, interconnected problems that plagued Kentucky—and its governors—during the war and its immediate aftermath. Though the state had remained loyal to the Union, many Kentuckians had only done so to protect their hold on slave labor and white supremacy. When war broke out in 1861, they couldn’t have imagined Lincoln or his Republican allies in Washington D. C. punishing their loyalty; even so, the Peculiar Institution was eradicated and, in response, violence against newly-freed African Americans and their supporters—that is, men like Peyton—exploded. (So much so that Kentucky became one of only two non-Confederate states to elicit the presence of Freedman’s Bureau agents.)

And then there were the guerrillas. Bramlette and his top commanders had struggled mightily to control them during the war and fared little better during Reconstruction, as irregular activity took on a decidedly pro-white, as opposed to anti-American hue. In turn, ex-guerrillas found more generalized support among white former Unionists. This alliance, combined with restrictive gun laws in the Commonwealth, made life exceedingly precarious for the likes of Peyton and Allen. On one hand, statutes against concealed weapons existed to protect civilians from guerrillas and outlaws—but did little to help former soldiers and current government agents when those civilians turned on them, formed terror organizations, and became guerrillas and outlaws. On the other hand, the “shenanigans” performed by Murray and Clay underscored that even in times of war, loyal men with concealed weapons could often do more harm than good—and made it difficult to justify officially loosening the reins on concealed carry during the war or afterward.

At first glance, the solution seems so obvious: to openly carry a sidearm. It was, after all, perfectly legal to do so in Kentucky during and after the war. In reality, though, there wasn’t a solution outside of carrying concealed weapons for Peyton and Allen, and both seem to have known it. To go totally unarmed meant certain harassment and potential assassination. To go armed so brazenly, however, essentially invited a fight; more to the point, it invited a fight with men who’d spent the war perfecting the art of killing and evading capture—and who had the ability to influence when and how juries enforced the 1854 statute. For lack of a better, more formal description, this scenario was simply a “lose-lose” for Peyton and Allen, a direct and unavoidable consequence of Kentucky’s unique Civil War and Reconstruction experience.

In the bigger picture, it was also a systemic problem for Thomas Bramlette and the state’s pro-Union government. Bramlette’s chief task as governor was to protect his loyal constituents—but as the nature of Kentucky’s war created a necessity for citizens to arm themselves in self-defense from guerrillas run amok on the homefront, it simultaneously created a necessity for Bramlette to more strictly enforce extant guns laws to protect certain citizens (read: Richard “the leg shooter” Murray) from themselves. It simply wasn’t possible for Bramlette to assuage both needs at once and the consequences of this inability continue to echo: the conundrum of self-protection vs. protection from self has been debated for 150 years since and shows no signs of abatement.

 

Matthew C. Hulbert is an Assistant Editor of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition.


SOURCES: J. A. Skein to Thomas E. Bramlette, 6 Nov 1863, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky (hereafter KDLA); G. T. Wood et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, 10 Nov 1863, KDLA; Brutus J. Clay Affidavit, 19 March 1864, KDLA; R. J. Littlepage et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette, n.d., KDLA; Richard H. Stanton, The Revised Statutes of Kentucky, Volume I (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1867), 414.

Civil War Governors at Keele

In a previous post, Patrick Lewis discussed the exciting opportunity to bring the work of CWG-K to the David Bruce Centre Colloquium held at Keele University in England. This video is the web version of his presentation. Watch it for a preview of the powerful social networks that CWG-K will be able to generate and analyze!

Understanding the Complexities of Slavery in Kentucky

Aside

By Tony Curtis

The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), in Frankfort, Kentucky, houses the largest collection of papers concerning Kentucky’s Civil War-era governors. Comprising a large portion of this collection are “Official correspondence and petitions related to appeals for pardons, remissions, and respites.” Each appeal for executive clemency provides historians with new glimpses into the complexities of Civil War-era Kentucky. One particular document, from the papers of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, opens a window on two relatively unknown aspects of slavery in Kentucky: slave hiring and slave marriages.

Slave hiring was a common practice across the commonwealth of Kentucky, throughout the larger Border South, and in many other slave states. While plantations did not comprise the majority of farms across Kentucky, slavery lay at the foundation of every aspect of the economy, society, and culture of the state. Many farmers, from small farmers to the urban businessmen, hired or hired out the enslaved on contract. In a March 1864 letter,[1] Alanson Trigg, a plantation owner, merchant, and banker from Western Kentucky, petitioned Governor Bramlette to “remit the fine imposed upon him” by the Warren Equity & Criminal Court “for permitting as was alledged [sic] two negro men slaves to go at large & to hire themselves.” “Owing to the condition of the County will,” he wrote, he was unable to “bring these negroes from Warren to Barren County, in which your petitioner resides.” As Trigg further states, “he placed them in the care & control of John Pelty and Wm G. Hendrick who promised to take care of & manage them as his own & if the law has been violated your Petitioner says others & not he violated it” and that “there are not better behaved & more honest slaves any where to be found than the two mentioned in the Indictment.” Not only did Trigg shift the blame from himself, he shifted the blame away from the two enslaved men and toward the two individuals who promised to “take care of & manage them.” According to an endorsement written by Trigg’s lawyer, J. B. Underwood, the two men accepted blame at the court hearing. However, Trigg was convicted and fined. Another endorsement by R. B. Hawkins supported Trigg’s claims and added, “The same privileges are given many other negroes in the town & country.”

Little is known about slave hiring across Kentucky, both in the urban and rural setting. Historians have noted that approximately 12 percent of the slave population in Lexington and 16 percent of the Louisville slave population were hired out in 1860, which is higher than Eugene Genovese’s estimate of 5 to 10 percent across the entire South.[2]

Alanson Trigg’s letter to Bramlette also includes a discussion of slave marriages—another important subject, about which historians continue to learn. Trigg states that he left his two enslaved men in Warren County under the auspices of supervision, and due to the fact that, “Each of them had a wife in Warren County near a farm owned by this Petitioner for many years & on which he had kept his slaves. On selling his farm he did not wish to sell his slaves & allowed them to remain in Warren out of humanity.” Why might historians and other researchers find this statement valuable? We still do not know enough about the prevalence of slave marriages and unions in Kentucky. Yet, while not supported by Kentucky law, marriages were often recognized by slave-owners on the same plantation or farm, or across property boundaries. Slaveowners engaged in this practice for several reasons, as a method to sustain the institution of slavery, as a means to increase their personal value, and as an avenue for increased connectivity of the slave economy. In short, more slaves, more slaveowner capital, more interconnectedness —the more sustained and entrenched the slave economy in Kentucky.

This document suggests several questions for future research on slavery in Kentucky: How common were cross-plantation or cross-farm marriages in Kentucky? What structures and networks sustained slave communities? What kinship ties existed among nuclear families and larger kinship networks, including enslaved women, and perhaps free blacks as well? Were enslaved men and women allowed to negotiate their own hiring out, or was this a relatively isolated incident that occurred within the context of black enlistment and the ultimate destruction of slavery? To answer questions like these, many more documents of this type will need to be found! But Trigg’s letter suggests we have more to learn about slavery in Kentucky.

[1] Alanson Trigg, et al., to Thomas E. Bramlette, March 1864, Office of the Governor, Thomas E. Bramlette: Governor’s Official Correspondence file, Petitions for Pardons, Remissions, and Respites 1863-1867, Box 9, BR9-508 to BR9-509, Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky.

[2] Aaron Astor, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2012); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage, 1974); and Jonathan D. Martin, Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004)

For Reading:

Barton, Keith C. “‘Good Cooks and Washers’: Slave Hiring, Domestic Labor, and the Market in Bourbon
County, Kentucky.” Journal of American History 84 (September 1997): 436-60.

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Burke, Diane Mutti. On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2010.

Glymph, Thavolia. Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household. New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Kaye, Anthony. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South. Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 2007.

Lucas, Marion B. A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation. Frankfort: Kentucky
Historical Society, 2003.

Martin, Jonathan D. Divided Mastery: Slave Hiring in the American South. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 2004.

O’Neil, Patrick. “Posses and Broomsticks: Ritual and Authority in Antebellum Slave Weddings,” Journal of Southern History 75 (February 2009): 29-48.

West, Emily. Family or Freedom: People of Color in the Antebellum South. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

—. Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina. Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 2004.

—. “Debate on the Strength of Slave Families.” Journal of American Studies 33 (August 1999): 221-41.

—. “Surviving Separate: Cross-Plantation Marriages and the Slave Trade in Antebellum South Carolina.”
Journal of Family History 24 (April 1999): 212-31.