Tragedy and Comedy in CWGK: Favorite Documents Found Through Double Proofing

“Cap To cap His cap Excellency cap G-o-v stop cap M super c cap G-o-f-f-i-n com graph cap Your cap Petitioner respectfully represents…”

So begins our reading as we check our transcription of the next document, a petition from a Kentucky constituent to Governor Beriah Magoffin. We do this through an oral double-proofing process, which involves one team member reading aloud the handwriting on a scan of the original document while another person compares what they are hearing to what they see on a different computer. This second computer shows the single-proofed transcription, which includes coding around dates, special characters and formatting such as underlining, page breaks, and paragraph breaks. Double proofing is one of the many steps we perform to ensure a document is correctly represented in its transcription. (See our webpages for more detailed descriptions of our document selection and editorial policy.)

We have our own special shorthand for capital letters (cap), commas (com), paragraph (graph), superscript (super), period (stop), and so on. Among our favorites are “crash” for exclamation points, and dashes of various lengths: “monkey” for an em dash and “narwhal” for an en dash* or “hyph” for a hyphenated word. When we have difficulty deciphering a word, we attempt to rely on context, but that is not always possible. The constituents who write are often in distress and may be ignorant of the law and their rights, as well as such niceties as spelling and grammar. Our policy is to preserve misspellings, such as in the very first sentence of this post, where a constituent makes a common error in spelling Magoffin’s name as McGoffin.

Double proofing documents is a duty we approach with excitement, fear, boredom, wonder, and even compassion. It can be tedious, especially when working through the “legalese” present on many of these documents. It can strain our eyes and brains as we work to understand what the person meant by these squiggles and seemingly random marks on a page. Reading for accuracy of the letters, words, and punctuation often means we cannot focus on the content and it sometimes becomes a jumble of such phrases as “said Petitioner” and “on the date aforesaid.” Lots of “said” and “aforesaid.” 

A range of emotions come over us as we read the words and digest the meaning. These documents convey the lived experience of Kentuckians during a tumultuous and confusing time. The openings are usually rather formal and standardized, but then, quickly or slowly, we are immersed in the world of the writer. Human nature is laid bare as the writers plead for help, attempt to justify their behavior, evoke pity, or make bold statements.

In this blogpost, the CWGK team shares some of our favorites in the tragi-comedy which is our double-proofing experience.

~ Deborah Thompson, Editorial Assistant ~

H. C. Hancock writes of a difficulty which resulted in a fight with Job Eddins in this document: H. C. Hancock to Thomas E. Bramlette. So far, pretty normal. Then comes the next part, which caused me to sit up straight: (double) “your petitioner unfortunately pulled out one of said (cap) Eddins eyes (cap) Your petitioner and the said (cap) Eddins were drunk at the time of the fight or it would not have accured (monkey)–(double)” 

We thought the surprise was over (narwhal) – but wait (narwhal) – there are more twists and turns to this crazy story (crash)! Read the above document and then a follow-up document for this head-scratching tale of two friends: H. K. Dope to J. J. Gatewood .  

Sworn to & subscribed before me by H. C. Hancock this 26th day of December 1864
William Mansfield Judge a.c.c.

~ * ~

~ Hailey Brangers, Research Specialist ~

R. V. Wheeler of Danville was fined $25 for throwing water out of his window. In his petition, R. V. Wheeler to Thomas E. Bramlette, he insists that he was unaware of the ordinance that made this an offense. He writes to the Governor in an attempt to alleviate this fine, stating that he is “poor and illy able” to pay it. It doesn’t stop there—he actually gets sixteen men to sign in his defense over throwing water out of his window.

This document is short in length, but contains insights into both the social and legal history of Danville. Studying these petitions is an opportunity to document the histories of ordinary Kentuckians by focusing on individuals and seeing who they associated with socially, thus providing knowledge about the world they occupied. The petitions also show us societal norms or specific legal ordinances of the 1860s.

Wheeler’s petition is a perfect example of the importance of understanding the historical context of these documents, and how important it is to ask questions. By asking why a little water would be a problem —this being pre-sewer America—we may infer that he was most likely disposing of his waste or bath water, possibly creating a health problem. Danville’s ordinance was mostly likely part of the public health movement in America that began in the 1860s as a campaign against smells [1]. But again, we cannot be absolutely certain about the circumstances of Wheeler’s fine. A lot of our job requires speculating about what could be, which can be frustrating for people who need all of the answers (lucky for historians, we are quite used to speculating and asking questions!).

~ * ~

~ Charles Welsko, Project Director ~

Another petition comes on behalf of Lafayette Brafford of Kenton County, from the jury that tried and convicted him, sentencing him to ten years in the State Penitentiary for killing a man named McCullough. The story is outlined in this document: Benjamin Funk et. al to Beriah Magoffin. Brafford, along with another man named Mullins (apparently remembering first names was not a skill set of the jury), were intoxicated on February 22, 1862. The petition details how Brafford and Mullins clambered into a “meat wagon” where Brafford accidentally “sat down into a bowl of sausage meat.” The drunken revelry prompted a confrontation with McCullough, the owner of the wagon, that turned from verbal argument to physical melee, where we know that Mullins produced a knife and stabbed McCullough three times in the back. Conveniently to Brafford’s case, neither he nor Mullins remembered how McCullough received the fatal stab to his bowels.

To His Excellency Beriah Magoffin
The undersigned state that they were the jury, which at the March Term 1862, of the Kenton Circuit Court, tried Lafayette Bufford for the murder of one [ ] McCullough, of Covington

This document, which provoked good laughs over the meat wagon and bowl of sausage meat, also touches on some common elements of CWGK documents. For one, there’s a continual theme of alcohol — be it the illegal sale and consumption, or irresponsible decisions derived from an excessive amount of fine spirits. More broadly, the document also represents the frequency of jurors affixing their names to petitions on behalf of individuals they convicted, suggesting that while they upheld the law, they were sometimes constrained by sentencing guidelines. They also recognized circumstances beyond their control (new evidence, pardons of other individuals, a genuine plea for mercy) that could supersede their decision.

~ * ~

~ James Bartek, Research Associate ~

Louisville, Thursday Oct. 30th 1862

Petitions for clemency or remittance of fines followed a standard format with little deviation. A petitioner stated his or her case as they saw the matter, explained why they felt they deserved clemency, and then beseeched the governor for mercy. In most instances they claimed ignorance of the law or their unintentional breaking of it. If first time offenders, they often enlisted the support of neighbors to vouch for good character. Petitions often asserted the “industriousness” of the petitioner, their economic straits, and how their family would ultimately suffer disastrous consequences of the result of the punishment of the head of household.  

Some petitioners were more articulate than others. Such was the case of Thomas H. Stevens of Louisville, a former Union soldier convicted of first degree murder. “Your Excellency, “he began, “no one regrets the deplorable and sad casuality more than myself, and with genuine contrition of heart I pray You to absolve me from the expiration of such a severe and ignominious penalty, by restoring me to the protection and support of my family. Not being familiar with the ‘modus operand’ usually adopted in making such applications this may be defficient in many particulars, but I claim Your indulgence and hope You will make all necessary allowances for Your imperfections.”

Despite his stated ignorance of the “modus operand” of such petitions, Stevens clearly knew what he was about. “…I do most sincerely hope,” he continued, “you will not turn a deaf ear to the entreaties and importunities of an unfortunate creature who has been plunged into such a vortex of perplexing despondency, torturing suspense and humiliateing woe….”

Whether Governor Robinson ultimately granted clemency is unclear. Whatever the outcome, Stevens did much to perfect the art of the petition. View the document through this link for much more eloquence: Thomas H. Stevens to James F. Robinson.

Highest Consideratio’s
Thomas, H. Stevens

~ * ~

~ Carl Creason, Research Specialist ~

Over the last year, I have helped double proof many documents about the sale and consumption of alcohol in Civil War Kentucky.  Indeed, the volume of entries in the CWGK database involving “Spiritous Liquors” might give some researchers the impression that few Kentuckians were sober between 1861 and 1865.  As you might expect, these documents often shed light on some of the most unfortunate and troubling episodes in our state’s history (acts of violence and public health concerns, to name a few).  Yet they have also provided moments of entertainment during double proofing sessions by offering windows into a variety of remarkable and outlandish incidents.  One such event came to us in a petition written on behalf of Charles C. Williams of Bourbon County:  J. A. Prall et al. to Thomas E. Bramlette.

Williams, a saddler and harness maker, moved to Paris, Kentucky, during the winter of 1862-1863.  The petition suggests that he began heavy drinking once he arrived in the Bluegrass state, though it provides no explanation for his change in behavior.  On one occasion, “while in a frolic,” Williams “dressed himself” in another man’s clothing and took a “seat in the most public place he could find.”  When questioned by officials, Williams claimed to have no memory of his actions because “his mind was crazed by intoxication.”  In the end, he was indicted for “grand Larceny” and faced jail time.

So far, this story sounds similar to a number of other drunken escapades gone wrong.  Someone drank too much, did something unconventional that disrupted the public order, and eventually faced the hard hand of local law enforcement.  That said, a few aspects of Williams’s case stand out.  First, the CWGK database contains other documents involving clothes-stealing, which often resulted in a serious penalty for the accused.  Nineteenth-century Kentuckians stole a variety of things, but—as one of my colleagues suggested—people seemed to respond differently when clothes were involved.  Second, the petition mentions that Williams arrived in Bourbon County as a “refugee from the South” who expressed Unionist sympathies.  I tried locating him in the 1860 census but had no luck. 

Pardon upon condition he immediately enlist as soldier in the U. S. Service – Tho E Bramlette
Indicted for Grand Larceny

Regardless, knowing that Williams was a Unionist who left a region hostile to his beliefs in the middle of a civil war, one wonders what challenges he faced before he arrived in Kentucky.  Perhaps being politically ostracized from his community or arguing with family members and close friends about the legitimacy of secession explains his propensity for heavy drinking.  Alone and despondent, Williams might have turned to alcohol to cope.  Obviously, without additional information, these conjectures cannot be confirmed, but they call attention to the difficulties of Williams’s circumstances as a white Unionist originally from a southern state outside of the Border region who moved to Kentucky during the war.    

~ * ~

At CWGK, we never really know what we’re going to see when we open up another document. The Kentuckians who corresponded with the governor may give us insight into their motives, lay bare their heart-wrenching tales, and help us understand their actions. Along the way, we may discover a unique turn of phrase, outrageous spelling, or the absurdity of the human condition. The fun part for us is being able to read over these documents and having a nice surprise each time a line catches our eyes and makes us laugh!

African American Voices and CWGK


Emancipation Proclamation, by L. Lipman, Milwaukee, Wisconsin,

On and around June 19, many African American communities across the United States will celebrate Juneteenth, the jubilant recollection of slavery’s destruction in the United States. Given the current intersection of race, politics, and Civil War Memory, the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) team wanted to make its contribution to that discussion by doing what it does best: offering historical documents, perspective, and the opportunity for individuals to learn more about the nation’s past.

The CWGK staff support the Kentucky Historical Society’s message about the recent national conversations, protests, and debates regarding race and the lives of African Americans. Today’s events are part of a long, unbroken sequence of connections stemming from the institution of slavery and the earliest foundations of American History. It is impossible to divorce the lives of the formerly enslaved and the legacies of slavery from our memory about the Civil War and its aftermath.

Below are links to resources that CWGK has available on our site or that our staff members have helped create over the years. Where appropriate, I have provided interpretive context to help guide you through these documents and larger materials. This is not an inclusive list of what CWGK offers, but represents a starting point to broaden our interpretation and understanding of the Civil War, slavery, and the lives of African Americans in Kentucky.  

The Caroline Chronicles:

Without question, the most deeply utilized part of CWGK is our work on Caroline Dement. A self-emancipated woman from Tennessee, who made her way to Louisville with the United States Army, Caroline was placed in the house of the Levy family until her master could claim her. While in the Levy household, Blanche, a young child under Caroline’s care, died from strychnine poisoning. The family accused Caroline of intentionally poisoning the child and a jury agreed before influential Louisvillians petitioned Governor Thomas Bramlette and secured her pardon. Although she disappeared from the historical record after leaving the Jefferson County Jail, Caroline’s story appears in one of CWGK’s exhibits, a short documentary, and a journal article.

Blog Posts:

Over the years, CWGK staff have devoted their time and interpretive expertise to blog posts that address different aspects of African American history pulled from documents found on our site. Here are a handful of those posts, and in the future, please visit our blog for more:


CWGK has more than 10,000 digitized and transcribed documents on our site. Below are a handful (but certainly not all) that pertain to African Americans, slavery, and emancipation. As you will note, most of these sources talk about, but rarely come from African Americans themselves. Furthermore, these documents often deal with African Americans in precarious positions—as freedom seekers trying to escape the cruelty of slavery, as suspects in violent crimes, or wrapped up in the punishments of white Kentuckians.

Despite all of the resources at our disposal, it is important to acknowledge that CWGK still knows more about white Kentuckians (especially white males) than their African American counterparts. A larger portion of this imbalance comes from realities of nineteenth-century life. Enslavement not only robbed African Americans of their personal freedom, rights, and personhood, but it also deprived countless enslaved men and women of an education. For every Frederick Douglass who learned to read and write while enslaved, innumerable other African Americans had no access to an education, as the practices of enslavers denied enslaved men, women, and children any semblance of humanity—monetarily, educationally, or personally.

CWGK attempts to tell the story of all ordinary Kentuckians, not just the nominal governors who frame our project’s temporal and administrative boundaries. We are, unfortunately, limited by the pervasive silence that dominates archival, political, and social spaces across an uncomfortable breadth of American history. CWGK, and this resource list, are an attempt to redress that imbalance. We have made good strides in drawing out the voices and experiences of black Kentuckians, but there is still much more work to do. We look forward to offering you that perspective in the future.

Telling the Story

We love a great story, especially those that help us see history in creative ways—from the perspective of the traveler, the child, the government official, the priest. Fiction has the potential to help us see a historical moment in a new light—helping us imagine the minute details, highlighting pieces of the story that might be buried.

We’re just a couple months away from the deadline for our inaugural short story competition. Need some inspiration? Our team is sharing some of their favorite stories below. We love the way these works of fiction point us to important historical moments, characters, and themes. Have you read them?

In Country
by Bobbie Ann Mason


Mason tackles the complexities of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a teenager in Western Kentucky. Sam, the protagonist, grapples with her father’s death in Vietnam and her uncle’s PTSD and potential Agent Orange poisoning. The book is vivid—you can feel the uncertainty, the “thrill” of uncovering secrets and discovering the past—what I love most about doing history! In Country weaves ghosts and layers the ways families shield their pasts from their children into an exploration of the legacies of the Vietnam War for those who served and survived. It sparked my interest in the Vietnam War and legacies.

Bobbie Ann Mason is a Kentucky treasure and I just adore her! Thank goodness for Bobbie Ann and my high school English teacher, Roberta Schultz, who taught me about Kentucky art and culture long before I realized what she was doing! — Amanda Higgins, Community Engagement Administrator, Kentucky Historical Society

by Shūsaku Endō


The year 1614 brought the official expulsion of Christian missionaries from Japan. Living underground, Christians faced persecution, and it was under this persecution that Christovao Ferreira renounced his faith. Silence traces the path of Padre Sebastian Rodrigues, a fictional Portuguese Jesuit priest, to Japan, where a leader of their faith community has apostatized. In the fictional account of the gripping emotional and spiritual experience of those involved, Endō brings forth themes of cultural difference and the multi-ethnic nature of the Christian faith. With his picture of the Christian experience in seventeenth-century Japan, Endō raises the question: What is the true nature of faith? — Sarah Haywood, Editorial Assistant, Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition

Death Comes for the Archbishop
by Willa Cather


Death Comes for the Archbishop offers a fictionalized account of the pastoral journeys of two nineteenth-century historical figures: Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy (Jean-Marie Latour) and his vicar apostolic, Joseph Machebeuf (Joseph Vaillant).  Both clergymen left their native France to serve as missionaries in the United States, where they worked to establish an episcopal see in the American southwest.  Cather narrates vivid descriptions of their encounters in isolated towns throughout the region, as they traveled by horseback to administer sacraments to the faithful.  

The novel provides a rich understanding of the core features of Catholic theology and practices. By framing her story within the context of intercultural exchanges between Euro-Americans and Native Americans, Cather captures the religious hybridity that occurred. Death Comes for the Archbishop is a wonderfully written and engaging novel that introduces readers to a variety of historical processes, like the development and growth of religious institutions and westward expansion. — Carl Creason, Research Specialist, Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition

How Few Remain
by Harry Turtledove


In high school, I had a penchant for reading alternate history, mostly the books from Harry Turtledove. The series that always stuck out to me the most was his Southern Victory series that posited what would happen if the Confederate states won the Civil War. It starts in the 1880s with a cast of historical figures—“Stonewall” Jackson, Samuel Clemens, and a disgraced Abraham Lincoln—during a second Civil War. Eventually the series carried into hypothetical analogs of both World Wars, with the U.S.A. and C.S.A. fighting on opposite sides.

I liked the series for the speculative power of its stories about people, the past, and an exercise in critical thinking. How would the world look different if the U.S.A. lost the Civil War and that spiraled into larger, global conflicts years later? — Chuck Welsko, Project Director, Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition

Teaching Guerrilla Warfare in Civil War Kentucky

In late 1863 George C. Hallet provided a prophetic statement on the future study of the Civil War in Kentucky. That November he appealed to state authorities in Frankfort for military assistance in order to counter pro-Confederate guerrillas operating nearby. More importantly, in his letter, Hallet noted that the “history of this stupendous rebellion is yet to be written and to be written in all truthfulness, the future historian must look to the public archives among which he will find the evidences of outrages committed on both sides” throughout the war.[1] For a digital humanities project such as CWGK, it would be difficult to locate a quote that better encapsulates the need for such a collection. Despite the contemporary utility of Hallet’s words, his appeal underscored the chaotic nature of wartime Kentucky.

Unlike other Border States or contested spaces in Civil War America, where irregular violence followed the presence of Union troops and emancipation, Kentucky offered a more chaotic, often unpredictable flurry of guerrilla warfare.[2] Part of that violence came from the operations of pro-Confederate guerrillas who resisted Union control and wartime policies. Another came from state-endorsed guerrilla hunters who pursued those irregular Confederates across the state.[3] If we take Hallet’s words seriously, little distinguished the guerrilla from the guerrilla-hunter. Both used murder, terror, and questionable (or openly defiant) interpretations of military law to achieve their own ends. The result was a violent landscape rife with unpredictability and something more akin to modern military conflicts in the Middle East, rather than the common battlefields and gallant soldiers of Civil War mythos.

How then should can we teach the chaos of Kentucky’s Civil War? This post offers suggestions on how educators might use CWGK to discuss guerrilla warfare in Kentucky (or the Civil War Era more broadly) with students in advanced high school or college settings.

1) The first step is provide students with a framework for what we traditionally understand the violence of the Civil War Era to represent. There are a few ways to approach this:

  • Provide primary sources that discuss military combat (Samuel R. Watkins’ memoir Co. “Aytch”: The First Tennessee Regiment or a Side Show to the Big Show and Percival Oldershaw’s report in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Vol. 16, page 1064, both discuss the Battle of Perryville from a Confederate and Union perspective).
    • Alternatively, you could look for a locally-based primary source, from a library, special collection, or a newspaper account like
  • Show the students a video clip—either from a documentary (such as Ken Burns’ Civil War or the History Channels’ Civil War Journal) or from a film (such as Glory or Gettysburg).

Regardless of the route, the primary goal is to make sure that students have a base understanding that most of the Civil War involved sizable armies engaging in structured combat. Especially early in the war, this involved the armies marching onto a battlefield and engaging in organized ranks until one (or both) sides retired from the field of battle.

2) After establishing that baseline, have the students read documents from CWGK’s guerrilla documents ( Here are a few specific suggestions:

  • Richard J. Browne to Thomas E. Bramlette: Browne records how Confederate guerrillas attacked and terrorized Washington County, Kentucky in late 1864, robbing citizens and murdering former Union soldiers at home.
  • Thomas E. Bramlette, Proclamation by the Governor: This message from Governor Bramlette laid out an aggressive policy of hostage taking for Union forces to punish Kentuckians who supported or encourage pro-Confederate guerrillas in the region.
  • Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Susan Parker and W. Watkins, Judgment: In this note, Bramlette cited the struggles of William Watkins and his service to the state in the execution of James Keller (a Confederate guerrilla). In return for his deed, Bramlette remitted a fine against Watkins for operating a tippling house.
  • Z. Wheat to Thomas E. Bramlette: Wheat writes on behalf of Edwin Terrell. Hired by Union officials, Terrell was a guerrilla hunter who killed a several Confederates, but was arrested for murder late in teh war. Bramlette, one of the men possibly responsible for hiring Terrell, denies Wheat’s request for a pardon. (See Hulbert “The Rise and Fall of Edwin Terrell, Guerrilla Hunter, U.S.A.,” Ohio Valley History, for a discussion of Terrell’s career as a guerrilla hunter).

3) This should build toward a discussion that compares and contrasts the traditional perceptions of warfare during the Civil War (step 1) and Kentucky’s guerrilla warfare (step 2). Here are some questions (with some of my own thoughts) that you can use to guide a conversation about irregular warfare.

  • How does the war appear different on the traditional battlefield and on an irregular front?
    • This is a simple question to initiate the conversation so that students can formulate thoughts on the different forms of combat during the war. I would use this question for students to summarize their thoughts on the materials they had read and draw comparisons.
  • Who participated in these different forms of military action?
    • The key here is to lead students to the realization that guerrilla warfare guerrilla violence could strike anywhere and at anyone, bringing civilians in as targets of both the Union and Confederate armies on the battlefield. In contrast, traditional military engagements mainly brought armies into conflict. While those traditional engagements can and did intersect with civilian populations, by and large, civilians were not the targets. Civilians who were especially vulnerable were those who aided Confederate guerrillas, Union soldiers returned from the front lines, as well as African Americans both enslaved and free.
  • What forms of violence are justified during war?
    • Any answer to this question is complicated as students might argue vastly different perspectives built off their personal experiences and beliefs. Some might say that war itself is immoral, while others could argue that any action that defeats the enemy is justified by victory. I would use this question to evaluate how contemporaries discussed what was acceptable in wartime: D. H. Dilbeck’s A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (UNC Press, 2020) is a good place to look for a recent discussion on this topic.
  • What differentiates soldiers from guerrillas/guerrilla-hunters?
    • This question touches on the earlier questions. While some guerrillas and guerrilla-hunters were supported by state or national governments, most operated well outside the confines of military law. Soldiers participated in a chain of command and acted as an extension of their government. Guerrillas could do the same, but also integrated personal and pecuniary motives into their actions. (Of course, if we look at the Fort Pillow Massacre, where Confederate soldiers brutally executed African American Union troops, guerrillas/guerrilla-hunters were not the only individuals who operated outside of normal, acceptable warfare).

Ultimately, these resources and questions offer a loose framework to use in a classroom setting. Feel free to substitute your own sources, readings, or questions. Hopefully, in these difficult times, this presents ideas for how educators can complicate how students understand military action in Civil War Kentucky.

[1] George C. Hallet to Daniel W. Lindsey,  24 November 1863,  37th – 76th Regiments Enrolled Militia Primary Source Documents (1861-1866),  Box 80, Folder 863-64 FULTON COUNTY Recruiting and Raising Company 40th Rgt. Ky. Militia,  Kentucky Department of Military Affairs,  Frankfort,  KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,, (accessed May 13, 2020).

[2] Andrew Fialka, “Guerrillas in the Archive: Kentucky’s Irregular War through the Governor’s Eyes,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society Vol. 116, No. 2 (Spring 2018), 209-36.

[3] Joseph M. Beilein Jr., “The Terror of Kentucky: Sue Mundy’s Highly Gendered War against Convention,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 116, No. 2 (Spring 2018), 157-82; Matthew Christopher Hulbert “The Rise and Fall of Edwin Terrell, Guerrilla Hunter, U.S.A.,” Ohio Valley History, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Fall 2018), 42-61. See also The Civil War Guerrilla: Unfolding the Black Flag in History, Memory, and
Myth. Edited by Joseph M. Beilein Jr. and Matthew C. Hulbert (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2015).

Tell the Story

We launched our first writing contest. And we want you to submit your story.

Are you an undergraduate student? A writer? Tell us what it would be like to experience the Civil War. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) is a freely accessible online publication of the Kentucky Historical Society. The edition focuses on the office of the governor during the Civil War, with the goal of uncovering the lost lives and voices of everyday people struggling to cope with unprecedented societal chaos.

Using any of the thousands of documents available on the CWGK website as your inspiration, craft your own story of life in this war-torn state.

Submissions are due by July 31, 2020.

What’s in it for you? The first-place story will receive a cash prize and an opportunity to appear on “Think Humanities,” the podcast from Kentucky Humanities, hosted by Bill Goodman. The prize for first place will be presented at the 2020 Kentucky Book Fair in Lexington, Kentucky.

You can find the full competition information—competition guidelines (including themes and sample documents to choose from), a scoring rubric, and a flyer to share the news at

Help us spread the news! To share with your department and other students, download this flyer.

Do you teach? This competition has been crafted to bring historical document experience to a range of students, especially those studying history and English. Keep this opportunity in mind as you plan your summer assignments, or offer an extra-credit opportunity for your students in the summer term. Know a student who isn’t in your class that would be interested? Share it with them too.

Have questions? Our team is here for you. Please direct questions to

The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society and the CWGK Special Issue

Front cover of the CWGK special issue Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 
Volume 117, No. 2 (Spring 2019)

In June of 2017 over a dozen eminent historians of the Nineteenth Century South and Civil War Era made their way to Frankfort as part of the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Symposium. The Kentucky Historical Society, along with guest convener Amy Murrell Taylor, organized a series of presentations based on research from the CWGK archive. Last summer, with the assistance of Amy Taylor as guest editor, Stephanie Lang (and over the years, former editors of the Register, David Turpie and Patrick Lewis), arranged those presentations into a special issue of The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Those essays probed the depths of CWGK and offered valuable insight into wartime Kentucky, as well as the means through which digital platforms offer new interpretive possibilities for the study of mid-nineteenth century America.

As COVID-19 compels Americans to adapt to new social practices and realities, academic presses, journals, and sites of discourse have gladly opened their founts of knowledge to eager readers. The Kentucky Historical Society happily joined in that scholastic endeavor by making all our digital issues of the Register, dating back to 2010, available on ProjectMuse. If you have not looked at those issues, click right here. In addition, as a means to fill the void of the delayed Kentucky Derby (at least partially that is), KHS launched a derby-themed competition for select issues of the Register available online (take a look at this round of contestants from the most recent issue and vote here).

To compliment that larger institutional endeavor, I reached out to Amy Taylor and Stephanie Lang (then Associate Editor, turned Editor of the Register) so they could share their experiences and ponder deeper reflections of their work on that issue. With hearty thanks to both Amy and Stephanie for their contributions, here are their thoughts on the CWGK special issue of the Register. I provided them with a handful of questions, below each of which, I have provided their response (AMT or SML).

Lastly, you can access all twelve articles from the CWGK special issue here. Here’s a quick list of those authors and articles (who I also extend my thanks to for their work with CWGK in the past):

  • Stephen Berry, “Dwelling in the Digital Archive”
  • Lesley J. Gordon, “Deeds of Brave Suffering and Loft Heroism”
  • David Gleeson, “An Unfortunate Son of Erin”
  • Anne Sarah Rubin, “Literally Destroyed as a Housekeeper”
  • Amy Murrell Taylor, “Texts and Textiles in Civil War Kentucky”
  • Mark Wahlgren Summers, “The First Refuge of a Scoundrel”
  • Kenneth Noe, “Disturbers of the Peace”
  • Diane Miller Summerville, “The Exciting Circumstances of the Rebellion”
  • Crystal Feimster, “Keeping a Disorderly House in Civil War Kentucky”
  • Luther Adams, “Tipling Toward Freedom”
  • Carole Emberton, “Searching for Caroline”
  • Patrick A. Lewis, “The “Most Notorious” Mr. Jennings”

How did you get involved with the CWGK special edition of the Register?

AMT: I was invited by the editor, David Turpie, as well as Patrick Lewis, who was managing the CWGK project at the time. I remember we had an initial brainstorming session in which we decided to aim big and invite some of the most innovative Civil War-era scholars around to contribute to the issue. And fortunately, those scholars were receptive.

Between the Register staff (Editors David Turpie and later Patrick Lewis) and the two of you how did you all divide the editorial work on the issue and what was your involvement with the issue?

AMT: We quickly decided that the special issue would be stronger if we pulled the contributors into a dialogue with one another. They were all working with the same body of primary sources to write their pieces – so there was potentially a lot to be gained from encouraging an exchange of ideas in the middle of the process. We then decided to hold a symposium at the KHS in Frankfort during the summer of 2017 and to invite the scholars to present the preliminary results of their research in the CWGK archive. The event was every bit as stimulating as we had hoped.

I focused initially on inviting the scholars and connecting them to the CWGK and encouraging their work. The wonderful KHS staff—from the Register editors, to the CWGK staff, to the folks involved in education and community engagement—took care of the details of putting the symposium together. They did a fantastic job, and we spent two days in the Old State Capitol talking, sharing, and ultimately pushing one another to think more creatively. We also had great meals and a stop at Buffalo Trace!

After the symposium, my editorial work involved giving each article draft an in-depth reading on matters of interpretation, while the Register staff took care of the rest.  And that was a lot. We never would have gotten to the finish line without the care and consideration that the staff gave to each and every article. I am especially grateful to Stephanie for bringing to the task both an eye for detail and an appreciation of each author’s purpose. It was wonderful to work with such a dedicated editor.

SML: Amy and Patrick played major roles in the very early conceptualization of the CWGK issue. My first involvement with the issue was shortly after I started working at KHS with the CWGK symposium Patrick organized, which brought together all of the authors in one room to explore the use and importance of digital humanities and share initial findings. As the issue developed, I worked with Amy and the authors on revisions, providing them with feedback and suggestions, and with the CWGK staff on sources. Once past the conceptualization and initial review stage, honestly the less glamorous and long day-to-day fact-checking, copyedits, correspondence and final questions, going through proofs fell to me – as it should be, in order to maintain the Register’s own editorial policies and overall direction. Working with guest editors is a partnership and certainly in this case, the collaboration with Amy not only allowed me (as an Appalachian historian) to learn more about the era but also sharpen my own skills and knowledge of digital humanities. But, most importantly for me, Amy was wonderful to work with and I feel I gained a colleague on many projects to come.

What are some of the benefits (and challenges) of joint editorial work and how does that issue from working on individual scholarship?

AMT: From my perspective, the greatest payoff from this partnership came at the beginning, at the point of conceptualization. Our initial brainstorming prompted us to imagine this as a collective enterprise rather than a series of individual projects. And in the end, I think each and every article benefitted from the exchange and collaboration we put in place through the symposium.

SML: For this particular issue, working jointly with Amy was extremely beneficial for the project. As a Civil War historian, researcher, and writer, she has strong command of the field and historiography which allowed us to move the content of the issue into new areas. She also has a strong network of connections which not only brought new scholars to the project, but the whole editing experience on my end was very collaborative and conversational – I enjoyed revising and editing with Amy and the authors, working together to craft articles that highlight the strength of digital humanities in research. 

The main challenge of the issue for everyone involved was thinking about how to use, research, and write about the ever-growing Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Project. Thinking more broadly about how and where to research, the CWGK project become the primary digital archive for the authors, which pushed everyone into new modes of research and also editing. Amy’s openness, along with all of the authors, to dive into the project, pick a topic and use the CWGK digital archive, not knowing what they might find (or not find), and craft an article from that was at first a large unknown. But, the different areas of interest and different questions the authors asked, the end result remains one of the top Register issues and illustrates KHS’s strength in digital projects.

The CWGK issue is a large issue, covering twelve articles from a range of historians on an equally diverse set of topics about Civil War Era Kentucky and digital humanities. What is one thing that you hope readers should come away with after reading this issue?

AMT: I hope they will see that Civil War-era Kentucky is still fairly “unknown” – that there is a lot to be learned, a lot to be discovered, and definitely a lot to be rethought. And maybe it will prompt readers to explore the CWGK on their own and take on new research projects themselves.

SML: That is honestly a big part of it – how we think about and use archives is changing, not only as more resources are digitalized and available online but now as we shelter in place and physical archives are not open. It allows us to be creative in accessing materials and how we define collections. Each author in this issue brought their own set of interests and focus to bear and their use of this new digital realm illuminated new voices and new stories from everyday people like us. And that is a strength of the CWGK issue – although the title seems to highlight the governors themselves, the archive actually gives a voice to thousands of Kentuckians writing in during the Civil War. Their letters, military records, legal correspondence, etc. are deftly woven together in the articles. Whether pleading for a pardon, communicating the anguish of a guerrilla raid, calling attention to hunger, grappling with what we today call PTSD – all of these articles brutally punctuate the human experience of the Civil War and how the war was experienced in a tumultuous border state. The articles in this issue ignite new conversations and a call-to-research for future projects.

Following up on that question, in what ways does the CWGK issue of the Register alter or complicate our understanding of Civil War Kentucky and Kentucky history in general?

AMT: I’d prefer to focus on how it “complicates” – because that, in the end, is what results from this special issue. The interpretation of Civil War Kentucky, like Civil War history all over the place, has suffered from simplistic and one-dimensional mythmaking over time. The pieces in the Register shatter those myths in a big way—no one can walk away from it assuming that Kentucky remained “neutral” and somehow aloof from the violent struggle over slavery; no one can assume that Kentucky slavery itself was somehow more moderate than the rest. Hopefully issues like this will help open up readers’ minds by disturbing comfortable assumptions and raising new questions about the state’s history. There is a lot of work that remains to be done, and maybe this issue can help inspire more of it.

How do you think that digital documentary projects like CWGK will change the landscape of writing articles and producing academic journals over the next several years?

AMT: I think that projects like the CWGK most obviously change things by opening up access to materials that many historians had not, or could not, examine easily before. When I say “access,” though, I don’t just mean that historians at a distance no longer need to travel to Frankfort, Kentucky, to see the governors’ papers, and can instead pop them up on their computer screen in San Francisco, California. That is true, of course, but what I really mean is that users can now read and absorb and analyze the materials in ways that could not be done in their traditional, analog format. For starters, the CWGK has a wonderful search engine that enables a user to see patterns across thousands of documents that remained nearly invisible before. And its mapping of the social networks underlying this vast set of documents enables users to see how people maneuvered through the very complex political landscape that was Civil War Kentucky. All of this holds the potential to produce truly pathbreaking scholarship.

What else would you want readers to know about the CWGK issue and the Register?

AMT: That I was greatly honored to play a role in bringing this issue to publication, and I thank the staff of the Register, past and present, for allowing me to play in their sandbox.

“[H]e was again taken Sick”: Lessons and Legacies of Civil War Epidemics

As we continue to face the realities (and uncertainties) of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the toll that disease took on Civil War Americans, especially soldiers who lived and operated in close quarters often without the knowledge or means to practice “good hygiene.”  Over the last several weeks, we have heard numerous references to “wash your hands,” “stay at home,” “essential services only,” and—perhaps most importantly—the new phrase coined by the CDC: “social distancing.”  For the majority of Civil War soldiers, these would have been foreign concepts or measures largely inconceivable during wartime (nineteenth-century armies couldn’t function with soldiers standing six feet apart). Consequently, a variety of diseases—tuberculosis, measles, smallpox, and dysentery, to name a few—spread rapidly among the enlisted population, particularly after the first year of the war.[1]

The results were disastrous.  Epidemics ravaged camps and communities on both sides of the conflict.  Historian Margaret Humphreys has described the Civil War as the “greatest health disaster that this country has ever experienced.”[2] Of the 750,000 deaths that occurred, disease accounted for approximately 500,000—meaning “troops . . . were more than twice as likely to be killed by deadly microorganisms as enemy fire,” explained Andrew M. Bell, author of Mosquito Soldiers.[3] However, medical professionals as well as ordinary Americans learned from the widespread outbreaks, acquiring new information about infectious diseases that helped revolutionize public health policies after 1865.  Many of the modern practices employed to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 developed, in part at least, from the experiences and knowledge gained from battling epidemics during the Civil War.

Wounded soldiers being tended in the field after the Battle of Chancelloarsville”
Courtesy of the National Archives: “Civil War Photos”

Recently, while exploring the CWGK database, I came across KYR-0001-029-0427, a petition that details the combat experiences of John O. Willis of Grayson County.[4] Reading it reminded me of the dire effects of disease on soldiers’ lives.  In the summer of 1861, Willis traveled nearly eighty miles from his home in Leitchfield to Camp Joseph Holt, a federal recruiting post located across the Ohio River from Louisville in Jeffersonville, Indiana.[5] There Willis joined the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry as a private for a three-year term (though, unknown to him at the time, Willis would be out of uniform before the summer of 1863).[6]

Service Records of John O. Willis
Courtesy of Fold3 [by Ancestry]

Not long after enlisting, he returned south to Munfordville in Hart County, where he and fellow members of General Lovell H. Rousseau’s 4th Brigade encamped to guard the vital railroad bridge that traversed the Green River.  Willis and other Union troops busied themselves with erecting earthworks and repairing the bridge after acts of Confederate vandalism.  Other than the relatively small Battle of Rowlett’s Station, which occurred on December 17, 1861, Willis avoided enemy fire.[7] Yet, over the winter of 1861-1862, he waged war against an enemy much more life-threatening to him than any Confederate foe.  That December, Willis “was taken Sick” with measles, a highly contagious viral infection spread through coughing, sneezing, and close contact with infected persons.[8] Willis undoubtedly contracted the disease from a fellow soldier, and likely spread it to others in west-central Kentucky.

Willis survived the outbreak at Munfordville.  By the following winter, he had rejoined his company, though he remained “in very bad health,” a complication of his bout with the measles.[9] Willis saw military action from December 31, 1862 to January 3, 1863 at the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Casualties mounted as Union and Confederate forces engaged in fierce fighting around the small town.  Of all the battles waged between 1861 and 1865, Stones River produced the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.  One out of every three Union soldiers either died or incurred combat wounds.[10]

Although Willis went unscathed from battle, “he was again taken Sick”; this time, Willis contracted “Chronic Diahrea” while stationed near Murfreesboro.[11] He represented one of approximately 1.5 million cases of dysentery that devastated the Union ranks.  The disease affected all levels of service—from privates to commissioned officers—because nearly everyone fell victim to poor sanitation and poor hygiene.  Latrines and contaminated food spread bacteria among soldiers living in crowded quarters.[12] Modern hand-washing practices and food-safety protocols certainly would have benefited Willis and other men in uniform, but those preventative measures were absent from nearly all Civil War campgrounds, hospitals, and prisons.

Willis suffered the rest of that winter in a Nashville hospital, where he remained “very near Dying.”[13] On March 3, 1863, he was honorably discharged with a “Certificate of Disability.” Willis returned home to Grayson County where he faced charges for “Selling giving and loaning to a slave . . . Spiritous Liquors.”[14] Months before enlisting, during the winter of 1860, Willis offered a neighbor’s slave “One Dram of Whiskey.”[15] The Grayson County Circuit Court delivered a guilty verdict and issued a $20 fine.  But Willis could not pay the penalty.  With his “Health . . . entirely gone,” Willis wrote to Governor James F. Robinson requesting that his fine be remitted.[16] The petition included the signatures of nineteen Grayson County residents who confirmed Willis’s inability to work since returning from service; in fact, they doubted “Whether he will ever . . . Recover his health so that he can work” again.[17] As a result, on June 19, 1863, Governor Robinson issued the remission.  Willis was spared the $20.

Willis’s June 1863 petition to Governor Robinson

Willis lived until September 1917 (only months before the outbreak of the Spanish Flu).[18] Remarkably, he survived two epidemics during the Civil War; however, thousands of the men he enlisted with and fought against did not.  Before mustering out in the summer of 1865, the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, Willis’s regiment, lost 179 members—123 of those men died of disease.[19] Recent scholarship on the medical history of the war, particularly the work of Shauna Devine, argues that men like Willis did not suffer with (or die from) disease in vain.  Rather, doctors and other medical professionals learned about contamination, developed treatments, and devised new public health policies to combat epidemics as a result of their experiences treating illnesses during the Civil War.[20] Indeed, Willis’s two years as a Union soldier attest to the importance of preventative measures to control the spread of infectious diseases—namely hand washing and self-quarantining (or social distancing).  As we face our own public health crisis, we are armed with medical knowledge not available to Willis and other Civil War Americans.  This information can help prevent the spread of disease in twenty-first-century Kentucky.

[1] Scholarship on the medical history of the Civil War has examined the health and treatment of soldiers from a variety of perspectives, including institutional studies of the army medical corps and U. S. Sanitary Commission, the role of women as nurses, the health of African American soldiers, the development and operation of Civil War hospitals, and disability among active soldiers and veterans.  For additional reading on these subjects, consult the following works.  Although not exhaustive, this list contains some of the most important publications: Frank R. Freeman, Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998); Jane E. Schultz, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Margaret Humphreys, Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Andrew McIlwaine Bell, Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the America Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010); Libra R. Hilde, Worth a Dozen Men: Women and Nursing in the Civil War South (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012); Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Kathryn Shively Meier, Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013); Margaret Humphreys, Marrow of Tragedy: The Health Crisis of the American Civil War (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); Brian Craig Miller, Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2015); Sarah Handley-Cousins, Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2019).

[2] Humphreys, Marrow of Tragedy, 1.

[3] Bell, Mosquito Soldiers, 2.

[4] John O. Willis to James F. Robinson, 15 June 1863, Office of the Governor, James F. Robinson: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Petitions for Pardons, Remissions, and Respites, 1862-1863, R4-184 to R4-185, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, KY.  Accessed via the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition,, (accessed March 29, 2020), (hereafter KYR-0001-029-0427).

[5] The 1860 census lists Willis as a twenty-seven-year-old farm laborer in Leitchfield, Grayson County, Kentucky.  Eighth Manuscript Census of the United States (1860), Population Schedules, Kentucky, Grayson County, Leitchfield, p. 347.

[6] Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers who Served in Organizations From State of Kentucky, NARA RG 94, Microfilm Series M397, Roll 0024.

[7] Kent Masterson Brown, “Munfordville: The Campaign and Battle Along Kentucky’s Strategic Axis,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol.97, no. 3 (Summer 1999), 247-285; Randy Bishop, Kentucky’s Civil War Battlefields: A Guide to Their History and Preservation (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 2012), 59-73; “The Union Occupation,” Battle for the Bridge Historic Preserve (Munfordville, KY), (accessed March 29, 2020).

[8] KYR-0001-029-0427.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, second edition(New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 582-583; James Lee McDonough, Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1980); Peter Cozzens, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

[11] KYR-0001-029-0427.

[12] Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2008), 85-87.

[13] KYR-0001-029-0427.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Vital Statistics Original Death Certificates – Microfilm (1911-1964), KDLA, Roll #7016189, Butler County Deaths, File #24346.

[19] Al Alfaro, “The Paper Trail Of the Civil War In Kentucky 1861-1865,” Notes compiled from Frederick H. Dyer’s A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908), (accessed March 29, 2020), 38.

[20] Shauna Devine, Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Service (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

CWGK Educational Resources During COVID-19

As COVID-19 forces schools to close or shift to online teaching, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some of those thematic lessons and educational resource that CWGK has made available over the past few years. With generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), CWGK has hired a research associate that developed many of these educational resources over the past two years. They pulled together activities and thematic lessons inspired by the 10,000 documents on the CWGK site to highlight the interpretive possibilities of our digital documentary edition. Given the current situation, these resources offer opportunities for educators to design larger lessons, inform conversations about mid-nineteenth century Kentucky, or fill the seemingly endless void between Netflix binges.

CWGK’s For Teacher’s Page includes both themes and classroom packets. The themes are short surveys of documents on CWGK connected to particular topics like women’s history, crime, agriculture, or religion with some suggestions for activities. The classroom packets survey slavery and murder, mental health, and the 1864 Presidential Election, while providing broader interpretation and activities. Given the transition to remote education across the country, here are two activities that educators could incorporate into their now virtual classrooms, with some suggestions on how they might do so.

CWGK Agriculture Activity: CWGK’s agricultural activity asks participants to envision themselves as farmers in Civil War Era Kentucky.  The activity has students assign points (representing the working hours of a day) to different agricultural pursuits on their fictional farms. Over the course of four phases (representing the four years of the Civil War) players draw event cards (developed from real events as discussed in CWGK documents) that represent the hardships brought on by everyday life and war. This includes everything from the requisition of supplies by either army, marauding guerrillas ransacking smokehouses, environmental challenges or disasters, droughts, freedom-seeking enslaved people, or requisitions from the army.

Converting to a digital experience:  CWGK designed this activity to function as a board game, with students moving their pieces around, drawing cards, and simulating agriculture and life in wartime Kentucky. Yet, it is possible to use the game remotely.

  • Use a video-conferencing platform (such as Zoom, Blackboard, Collaborate, or another video platform) to run the game live with students with your camera facing the game board and have them roll dice (or you roll for them to eliminate the possibility of cheating), and then move their pieces and read the event cards accordingly.
  • Use a virtual tabletop platforms (such as Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, Beyond Tabletop, or other systems) to upload a copy of the map, have students join, and operate the game digitally.  
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress,

The Election of 1864: Our second activity deals with the Presidential Election in 1864 that pitted incumbent Abraham Lincoln against former Union general, George McClellan. Kentuckians divided deeply over the election. Although a largely (but not exclusively) Union state, many slaveholding Kentuckians disdained the erosion of slavery and violation of civil liberties brought on by the Lincoln Administration. Further, questions of loyalty in a slaveholding border state, racial as well as gender influences, and political differences further prevented substantial portions of Kentuckians from voting.

  • Converting to a digital experience: To take this digital, I would suggest assigning roles to the students, having them read the documents particular to their role, and discussing (either live or through a chat function) how their character would vote in the 1864 or if they could.  
  • Alternatively, it would be possible to connect this event to questions of political access in the 2020 election and the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment. Students could research the evolution of political access or current questions of political participation to inform a larger discussion of voting rights in a longer scope of American history.

These are just suggestions to spark creativity—educators know their students and curriculums far better than I do, so I am sure that there are other opportunities to use these resources to educate students. If you have recommendations, suggestions, or wish to talk further about this, please feel free to contact me at or the CWGK team at  

Stay safe and healthy, and I hope these resources might make teaching in these trying times just a little bit easier!

The CWGK Blog in 2020

Greetings fellow scholars and enthusiasts of Kentucky history!

We hope this post finds you well given the current state of local, national, and global affairs. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) team realizes that there is a great demand for online resources among educators scrambling to assemble online classes, parents looking to entertain children on an extended stay at home, and researchers separated from the archive. CWGK is here to help as best we can.

To that end, CWGK plans on rolling out new blog posts in the weeks to come that will include connections to current events (see Deborah Thompon’s posts on civilian emergency responses after the Battle of Shiloh); interpretation of our documents; and educational resources or activities for teachers and students.

Also, if you are looking for other ways to study Civil War Kentucky, visit the CWGK site to access our 10,000 digitized and transcribed documents. You can also visit our For Teachers page that includes educational activities or subject guides that highlight the variety of documents in our collection.

In the days and weeks to come, check back with us as the CWGK team, along with guest authors, add to our blog and offer you ways to make it through this, to borrow liberally from one of documents, “vortex of perplexing [despondency],” while learning more about Civil War era Kentucky. We’ll make sure to keep you posted through social media about new posts and other news from our site.

Lastly, we encourage you to be smart and safe—stay home as you can, read some more about Kentucky history, and as always, check out the Kentucky Historical Society’s Virtual Visitor page:

Chuck Welsko (@cwelsko on Twitter)
Project Director

95 ¾ Yards of Calico: Emergency Responses by Civilians

The Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee: 23,000 men killed and wounded over two days in April 1862.

Kentucky’s civilian response? The Lexington Ladies Aid Society took materials purchased by the state quartermaster to transform thousands of yards of cotton sheeting, calico, and mattress ticking into bedding and bandages for wounded soldiers. Some of those supplies traveled south to hospitals in Tennessee, while others stayed in Kentucky as casualties steamed upriver to hospitals in the Commonwealth.

One of the receipts for fabric used for Shiloh bandages (KYR-0002-218-0456).

That public-private partnership made it possible to address emergency needs. In this time—in early 2020—of a “war” against COVID-19, similar actions are happening as there is currently a public response to sew protective face masks, even if they are not as regulated and effective as N95 masks.

Another receipt for goods that went towards the war effort

These two documents are part of the CWGK collection and in the queue to be published and annotated on our site. Browse more than 10,000 CWGK documents that have been published at

For more information on face masks, see