Witnessing the War Beyond the Battlefield


By Patrick A. Lewis

How did the Civil War affect Kentuckians who weren’t in the armies, who didn’t fight in the pitched battles that usually spring to mind when we think of the Civil War?

Kentucky was a state that saw only a few such battles, Perryville being by far the largest.  But, if we look deeper into the historical records that the CWG-K project will make freely available and accessible, we begin to understand that the everyday battles for home, family, survival, and dignity in the face of a world tearing itself apart were to be found in every corner of the state.

As farms, families, and communities were being devastated by Kentucky’s intensely local civil war, countless citizens desperately looked to their state government for relief.  In August 1865—months after the war had officially ended and the guns supposedly fell silent—Colonel William De. B. Morrill met Mrs. White, a young widow who personified the suffering the war brought.

Mrs. White’s husband had died while serving in the Union army, leaving her to manage the family farm and a family as best she could.  This she had done until only recently, when rebel-sympathizing guerillas “had destroyed everything at Mt. Vernon,” where the family lived.  The widow’s home had been burned, and the marauders had “even shot her cow, while she was milking it, some of the balls passing through her dress.”  Worse, one of the children had been wounded in the attack, “as [Morrill] could see by the scar” on her shoulder.  Morrill, who was employed to buy food and supplies for sick and injured Kentucky soldiers, took it upon himself to expand his authority and help the widow.  He bought two meals for the White family, who had not “tasted a mouthful of food that day,” and gave them ten dollars in cash to help ease their suffering.[1]

Mrs. White’s brief encounter with this military likely produced the only document which will ever record her family’s tragedy.  One of the purposes of the CWG-K project is to reveal evidence of stories like this one, which recover forgotten, powerless, and voiceless Kentuckians.

The days of work involved in making each document like this one available and usable—capturing high-resolution images, transcribing the text, and researching and annotating each of the thousands of people and places our documents mention—is an investment in the legacy of these forgotten people.  CWG-K enables us all—teachers, students, researchers, local and family historians—to understand and remember the ways in which the Civil War tore apart the lives of thousands of Kentuckians—male and female, old and young, white and black—on and off the battlefield.

[1] William De. B. Morrill, Financial Statement, Aug. 8, 1865, Office of the Governor, Thomas E. Bramlette: Governor’s Official Correspondence File, Military Correspondence, 1863-1867, Box 5, BR5-202 to BR5-203, BR8-207 to BR8-208, Kentucky Department of Library and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky.  The woman’s husband was probably Corporal John W. White, Co. H, 3rd Kentucky Infantry—Governor Bramlette’s regiment.  He died on April 10, 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Compiled Service Record, John W. White, Corporal, Co. H, Third Kentucky Infantry; M319, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Kentucky, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Kentucky, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.