Emancipation’s Impact on African American Marriages in Civil War Kentucky: A four-part series

By Deborah J. Thompson, CWGK Editorial Assistant, and Charles R. Welsko, CWGK Project Director

Post 1:

Inspired by the passage of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021, this series of posts examines documents in the CWGK archive to uncover the stories of how three different African American couples encountered freedom. Late in the war, a woman named Lennie claimed her freedom through an unnamed and absent husband in the U.S. Colored Troops. Henry Pointer, a freed man, followed his enslaved wife out of state, facing charges of illegal immigration upon returning to Kentucky in 1859. Mary “Polly” Ann Southgate, a free woman of color, owned her own husband, Caleb Hitch, and was fined for allowing him to work for wages. As Amy Taylor noted in her award-winning book, Embattled Freedom, the destruction of slavery and the enactment of emancipation remained elusive and uneven processes during the war.[1] The stories of these couples reveal the contingent nature of freedom and emancipation in Kentucky throughout the Civil War.

The commemoration of Juneteenth (the day enslaved Texans heard of their freedom) and other emancipation-related holidays reflect the uneven nature of emancipation, as there was no one date when slavery truly ended nationally. Many Kentuckians, particularly in Lexington and Louisville, celebrated January 1 as Emancipation Day after 1865, as the date of the Emancipation Proclamation’s issue.[2] In Evansville, Indiana, across the river from Henderson, Kentucky, celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation took place on September 22, the date of its preliminary issue.[3] Some celebrated July 4, and the birth of the U.S.A., with a rebirth of freedom caused by the eradication of slavery—or—as a reason to protest lack of full civil rights for formerly enslaved persons.[4] Some areas of western Kentucky and Tennessee continue to celebrate the end of slavery on August 8, although there are conflicting accounts of the significance of that date. The Paducah Daily News-Democrat on August 8, 1905, stated that it commemorated the freedom of slaves in Santo Domingo, Haiti being the first Black republic established in the Western Hemisphere after a slave uprising that began in 1791. The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia cites another version of August 8th’s origin story, tracing it to Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson’s emancipation action in his district.[5]

These different celebratory dates emerged because African Americans encountered freedom unevenly throughout the war. For some, the movement and presence of the U.S. Army encouraged enslaved individuals in Virginia, Kentucky, or along the Confederate coast to flee their enslavers early in the war. As the war progressed, and the U.S. Army pushed deeper into the Confederacy, more enslaved individuals had the opportunity to self-emancipate. Legally, the path to freedom was winding. Abraham’s Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation, issued officially on January 1, 1863, fundamentally changed the tone of the Civil War to include the destruction of slavery. While Lincoln declared the enslaved people in most of the rebellious Confederate states free by their own national, state, and local laws, the Confederacy maintained the enslavement of nearly four million Black Americans. Federal law and military power could not enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in the South, but it provided Black Americans, enslaved or free, the ability to act on the possibility of a future defined by freedom, not servitude.

The narrative is more complicated in the loyal border states (like Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky), since they remained unaffected by the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended in these states at different times. Maryland passed a new constitution to dismantle slavery in 1864. Missouri passed their own anti-slavery ordinance in early 1865. Kentucky waited until the national ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, begrudgingly relinquishing the enslavement of Black Americans.[6] The enslavement of four million African Americans did not end at once; rather, it concluded in a rolling, uneven, tumult of violence, uncertainty, and hardship intermingled with hope and possibility.

The lives of African American Kentuckians became even more complicated when one spouse gained their freedom while the other remained enslaved. In the following posts, CWGK NHPRC Editorial Assistant Deborah Thompson will highlight the experiences of three different African American couples torn between slavery and freedom. The next post will focus on a couple caught in the conflict between civil law and military orders in the waning months of the war, when the U.S. government and its military proclaimed freedom for the families of African American soldiers but state law did not support this decision. CWGK document KYR-0001-004-1795 describes the testimony of Lennie, the wife of a U.S. Colored Troops infantryman, who left her master “on strength of an order issued by Major General John Palmer freeing the wives of Colored Soldiers.”[7] Lennie was in danger of reenslavement due to her illness and uncertain legal position, partly because as a slave she could not prove her marriage to her husband. She had no rights as a citizen even to offer her own testimony in her case. Her story and the ones that follow foreground the contingent, unpredictable, and tumultuous experience of emancipation in wartime Kentucky.


[1] Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

[2] Marion B. Lucas, A History of Blacks in Kentucky from Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891 (Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society, 2003), 299.

[3] Darrell E. Bigham, On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2003), 371.

[4] Lucas, 300.

[5] Sallie L. Powell, “August 8th Emancipation Celebration,” in The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, ed. Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2015), 29.

[6] Thomas E. Bramlette, Message of Governor Thos. E. Bramlette, to the General Assembly of Kentucky, December Session, 1865 (KYR-0001-008-0002).

[7] Henry H. Hadley to Unknown (KYR-0001-004-1795).

“Some of the officers of the regt held a mutiny:” Promotion, Popularity, and Politics in the 13th Kentucky Infantry

By Jon Tracey
(former CWGK intern)

While working through document transcription, we are sometimes lucky enough to find several documents all related to the same topic. Often, these new documents provide a glimpse at previously obscured narratives in the documentary record. In this case, a small collection of letters from the 13th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment (U.S.A.) details a politically inspired conflict within the ranks. In March 1863, Union officials promoted Colonel Edward H. Hobson, the 13th Kentucky’s commander, to the rank of brigadier general which left his post vacant. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel William E. Hobson, was the natural choice for the colonelcy, but his accession to command proved problematic and sparked a potential mutiny. 

Many factors surrounded the debate about who would be promoted. Age was one of William Hobson’s potential detriments. Other members of the regiment, including several officers, urged the promotion of Major Benjamin Estes, an older and more respected officer for promotion. Despite his youth, 17 at the time of recruitment, William Hobson had helped raise the regiment and secured an appointment as Major. Comparatively, Benjamin Estes, was a native of Bridgeport and a doctor who entered service with the regiment as a captain commanding Company D, and by the time of the promotion debate in 1863 was 31 years old, fourteen years William Hobson’s senior.[1]  Though most who preferred another candidate acknowledged William Hobson’s management skills, talent and ability were discussion points during debate as well. He had only been lieutenant colonel for about a month, as his predecessor John Carlisle had resigned in mid-February. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, William Hobson was the nephew of Edward Hobson, and appeared to share his Republican political views.

One major argument made against the younger Hobson’s promotion was his young age. Though it is debated who the youngest Union colonel really was, William was certainly one of the youngest considered for the position. In the same letter that Edward Hobson wrote the governor thanking him for the promotion to brigadier general, he immediately set forth his nephew William as the naturally successor to the position of colonel. Edward Hobson even attempted to head off criticism regarding age, stating “Some persons would and I understand have urged as an objection his age. I have never found it an objection and of course have had every opportunity of judging.”[2] To further bolster his argument, he mentioned two other colonels stating they were similar ages to William and had given satisfactory service.

Command ability was another factor considered during promotion. The elder Hobson explained he knew “of no one more Suitable to fill my place” and that William was “one of the best young men in the State possessing all the qualities of a true Soldier and Gentleman.”[3] Even the officers who advocated for Estes’ promotion admitted that Hobson was a good officer, calling him a “good disciplinarian, and has brought the Regt to what it is.”[4] Another letter stated, “you know Lieut Col. Hobson is the man to fill that place, and is entitled to it by seniorarty[sic] and is the best military officer in the Regt.”[5] A.G. Hobson took a more direct approach in his letter supporting William. He directly referenced that the “Revised Regulations USA Page 11 Article 4 Sect 19 reads ‘All vacancies in established regiments and Corps’ to the rank of Col Shall be filled by promotion ‘according to Seinority[sic] except in Case of disability’ or other incompitency.[sic]”[6] In addition to defenses of his age and quoting regulations, other letters praised William’s organizational ability and bravery at the battle of Shiloh as further justification. Age aside, William seems to have been effective at his work.

Perhaps more important than even age or ability were William Hobson’s family ties and political affiliation. Edward Hobson, a veteran of the U.S.-Mexican War, raised the 13th Kentucky Regiment in the fall of 1861 and commanded it through several engagements until his promotion to brigadier general in early 1863.[7] He was an influential man. William E. Hobson was his nephew, the son of Edward’s brother Atwood Gaines Hobson.[8] This family connection certainly helped William, and he had used this prominent connection to recruit men and secure the position of major as the regiment was raised.

As explored by Zachary Fry in his book, A Republic in the Ranks, national politics often influenced interactions and promotions within a regiment.[9] Edward Hobson later joined the ranks of the Radical wing of the Republican Party after the war, supporting the 13th and 14th  Amendments. Immediately after the war, he ran as the Radical Republican candidate for clerk of the state court of appeals, losing due to his support for the 13th and 14th Amendments, and later served in President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration as a district collector of internal revenue.[10] A biography of William Hobson published in the 1886 edition of Kentucky: A History of the State mentioned that after the war he began a Republican newspaper, indicating his wartime political affiliations.[11] This indicates that both uncle and nephew held similar views, and perhaps Estes was more politically conservative. Importantly, one of the newspapers that the “mutineer” officers sent their resolution to supporting Estes was to the “Journal & Democrat,” most likely the Louisville Daily Journal and the Louisville Daily Democrat, leading papers in the state’s largest city.[12] 

The timing of the debate is also important, as it emerged in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. As Jonathan White argued in Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln, the policy of emancipation often divided Union soldiers, especially those from border states.[13] Additionally, Fry explained that political views, especially those that supported the Republican Party’s national or state governments, could lead to promotion. Some who hoped for promotion “had learned that espousing Republican ideals was the quickest way to gain recognition.”[14] In another case, Fry noted that notably Democrat-leaning troops often found their promotions refused or delayed.[15] Though detractors tended to focus on the younger Hobson’s age as the primary reason he should not take command, political considerations also produced resentment against his promotion.

Interestingly, the material record sheds light on a surprising development that some considered a rebellion. On March 15, A. G. Hobson, likely Atwood Gaines Hobson (Edward’s brother and William’s father), sent a letter accusing several officers of conducting a “mutiny” by nominating Major Estes for the colonelcy.[16] See CWGK document KYR-0002-050-0013, which discusses this alleged mutiny. In it, several officers, led by Surgeon C.D. Moore and Lieutenant E.P. Allen, drew up numerous resolutions. They congratulated Edward on his promotion and requested to remain attached to his command. However, they also set forth Major Estes as successor, stating he held his “various positions with honor & ability and [is] one who is well worthy of the position.” [17] This resolution was signed by multiple officers, and copies were sent not only to Edward Hobson and Adjutant General John W. Finnell, but also to two newspapers for publication. Despite the resolution’s claim that they represented the officers of the regiment, several worked avidly to ensure William’s promotion. E.P. Allen wrote to Captain Patterson shortly after the meeting and complained that “Those men hold their meetings night and day for the purpose of forcing Maj Estes into that position.”[18] Clearly the section of the regiment that preferred Estes was both active and vocal.

In the end, army regulations won out. William Hobson was promoted to the rank of colonel on March 24, and Benjamin Estes took his place as lieutenant colonel. Hobson took the oath to fulfill his duties as colonel on March 26th, a document that is now part of CWGK’s digital collection as KYR-0002-050-0003. Despite the debates, William’s promotion to colonel was backdated to March 13, meaning he had effectively served as lieutenant colonel for a total of less than a month. In The Gentlemen and the Roughs, Lorien Foote explored a similar, but decidedly more violent, case of promotion-related tensions in the 7th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (U.S.A.). Major William W. Bradley, a well-loved officer with Republican sympathies, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Vimont, who was vehemently anti-abolitionist, of that regiment were bitter rivals.[19] Inflamed by partisan discord, the two men also bristled over a promotion. When the position of lieutenant colonel was open in 1863, two-thirds of the regiment’s officers signed a petition supporting Bradley’s candidacy for promotion. Despite this, influential politicians in the state government ensured Vimont’s promotion. Yet, Vimont “could not accept the obvious preference nearly every man in the regiment had for Bradley.”[20] Bradley was court-martialed for killing Vimont in January 1864, following a series of increasingly aggressive actions by the lieutenant colonel. Ultimately, Bradley was found not guilty of murder, as Vimont’s verbal and political aggression, accusations, and threats meant Bradley had acted in self-defense.[21] In the 7th Kentucky Cavalry, politics and personal tension led to a much more violent conclusion than in the 13th Kentucky Infantry.

Most of the 7th Kentucky’s “mutineers” appear to have continued service with the regiment without much continued conflict. However, Surgeon C.D. Moore, one of the most vocal proponents of Estes, was dismissed from service in June “with loss of all pay and allowance, for giving certificates of disability for discharge in cases of enlisted men, on insufficient grounds.”[22] Oddly, he was reinstated roughly two months later on August 11.[23] Perhaps his removal had been arranged by those who opposed that faction, but although Moore lacked enough influence to have Estes promoted he apparently had enough influence for his reinstatement. In any case, it seems internal politics troubled the 13th Kentucky months after the tensions of mid-March. Though William Hobson’s promotion occurred quickly, Benjamin Estes’s was delayed. Estes’s promotion to lieutenant colonel came later, dated May 15 of that year, perhaps a holdover of the tensions regarding the events of that March.[24]

In June 1864, William Hobson took command of the brigade the regiment was serving with, and Estes finally had command of the regiment he had tried to lead. Edward was briefly captured by Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan before taking command of Lexington, Kentucky. Following brigade command, William took a post in Bowling Green, and both Hobsons finished the war behind the lines. Estes commanded the 13th Kentucky until it mustered out on January 12, 1865, but he never received a promotion to colonel.[25]  Perhaps this “mutiny” had doomed any chance of permanent promotion. The drama surrounding this promotion offers insight into the unusual internal politics within the Union Army. Whether driven by ambition, personal ambitions, or national politics, regiments seldom functioned as smoothly as might have been hoped.


[1] “Dr. Benjamin P Estes,” Find A Grave, November 2011, Accessed December 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80361096/benjamin-p-estes

[2] The documents used for this blog have only recently been transcribed and have not yet been processed onto the main website for CWGK. To find them, go to the FromThePage site for CWGK at https://fromthepage.com/khs/civil-war-governors-of-kentucky. From there, you can find the documents using the KYR numbers cited in these footnotes. KYR-0002-050-0001

[3] KYR-0002-050-0001

[4] KYR-0002-050-0011

[5] KYR-0002-050-0011

[6] KYR-0002-050-0005

[7] “Edward Henry Hobson,” Find A Grave, October 2001, Accessed December 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/5894138/edward-henry-hobson

[8] “William Edward Hobson,” Find A Grave, July 2008, Accessed December 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/28021515/william-edward-hobson

[9] Zachary A. Fry, A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac (Capel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

[10] John E. Kleber, editor, The Kentucky Encyclopedia (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 435.

[11] J.H. Battle, W.H. Perrin, and G.C. Kniffin, Kentucky: A History of the State, 1886 in M. Secrist, Warren County, Kentucky: History Revealed Through Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of its Ancestors (Morrisville, NC:Lulu Press, 2013). 

[12] KYR-0002-050-0013

[13] Jonathan W. White, Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2014).

[14] Fry, 123.

[15] Fry, 145.

[16] KYR-0002-050-0005

[17] KYR-0002-050-0013

[18] KYR-0002-050-0011

[19] Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2010), 59-60.

[20] Foote, 62

[21] Foote, 59-63.

[22] KYR-0002-050-0036

[23] KYR-0002-050-0038

[24] Daniel Lindsey, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky Volume I (Frankfort, KY: John H. Harney, Public Printer, 1866), 855.

[25] Ibid,.

CWGK GRAs for 2021

Map of CWG Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) from 2016 to 2021.

CWGK is proud to announce the hiring of three new Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) who will complete editorial work on the project this year. This year’s GRAs are Daniele Celano (PhD Candidate, University of Virginia), Kevin McPartland (PhD Candidate, University of Cincinnati), and Rachael Nicholas (PhD Student, West Virginia University). Daniele, Kevin, and Rachael will each annotate 120 documents this coming year. Their work will take them across records pertaining to a widely documented murder case in Caldwell County, the bureaucratic paperwork of civil appointments, and an assortment of petitions that passed across the desk of Governor Bramlette between 1863 and 1865.

To learn more about these three scholars (as well as all the previous GRAs) check out the CWGK Graduate Research Associate page. You can also see the map at the top of this page for a quick reference of the home institutions for each of the past and present GRAs.

CWGK is able to hire graduate students through the support of the Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions Program administered by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The generous support of the NHPRC has been crucial to the success and growth of CWGK. as their assistance has allowed the project to grow while preparing new generations of digital humanities scholars.

2021 Graduate Research Associates

Overview: The Kentucky Historical Society and its project the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) seek three graduate students who are passionate about the study of nineteenth-century America, the resurrection of marginalized voices, and are eager to learn more about digital history. With the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a branch of the National Archives, CWGK will be able to hire three Graduate Research Associates (GRAs) to conduct editorial work for the project from over the period February 1, 2021 to January 31, 2022. GRAs are compensated with a production-based stipend of $4,000 and can work remotely from their home institutions.

Each GRA will annotate 120 assigned documents and spend approximately 250 hours on this work over the course of the year. All applicants must be a graduate student who have completed at least one semester of a M.A. program in history, or a related humanities discipline (doctoral students/candidates preferred, but not required). Experience with nineteenth-century United States history or documentary editing is also preferred, but not necessary. The new GRAs would continue a successful four-year program that has involved 14 other young scholars and digital humanists.

CWGK is an annotated, searchable, and freely-accessible online edition of documents associated with the chief executives of the Commonwealth from 1860 to 1865. However, CWGK is about more than the nominal governors; it is about reconstructing the lost lives and voices of tens of thousands of Kentuckians who interacted with the office of the governor during the war years. Collectively, the staff of CWGK identify, research, and link together every person, place, and organization found within its corpus of documents. To see the project’s work to date, visit discovery.civilwargovernors.org.

Each GRA will be responsible for researching and writing short entries on all of the individuals, places, organizations, and geographical features found in their assigned 120 documents. On average, each CWGK document contains fifteen entities and such documents require approximately two hours to complete.

The GRA position is more than just editorial work, it is an opportunity to diversify professional skills, engage with relevant digital humanities projects, and participate in a process that shapes how scholars and the public understand the Civil War era. Throughout their appointment, GRAs will meet weekly with the CWGK team, discussing editorial policy, working on document annotation, and studying the field of Civil War history more broadly.

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

Application Materials and Evaluation: An application should consist of a narrative statement of professional ability and experience with digital history in the form of a cover letter, a CV, and two letters of recommendation. Additional supplementary materials that demonstrate capacity in the evaluation factors may also be included, these may include, but are not limited to: examples of other digital projects, writing samples, or proof of editorial experience.

Application materials should be submitted to Dr. Chuck Welsko, Project Director at charles.welsko@ky.gov by January 5, 2021. Any questions about the application or application process can also be directed to Dr. Welsko. 

The Kentucky Historical Society will evaluate the applicants based on the following factors, as demonstrated through their applications materials:

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

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

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

Introduction:

Emancipation Proclamation, by L. Lipman, Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003671404/

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:

Documents:

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

(1985)

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

Silence
by Shūsaku Endō

(1969)

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

(1927)

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

(1997)

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 chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
  • 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 (http://discovery.civilwargovernors.org/exhibits/show/subject-guides/guerrilla-warfare). 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, discovery.civilwargovernors.org/document/KYR-0002-022-0011, (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 discovery.civilwargovernors.org/ssc

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 civilwargovernorsofkentucky@gmail.com.

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.