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Monday, April 17, 2017

Kentucky Civil War History

Above, a view of Paducah, Kentucky across the Ohio River from Fort
 Massac State Park in Metropolis, Illinois. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

Last November, I drove from Los Angeles to Metropolis, Illinois to attend Noel Neill's celebration of life services. While there, I stayed at the Fort Massac State Park campground. The state park is situated at the Ohio River. 

Across the Ohio River is Paducah, Kentucky. I drove through Paducah while en route to Memphis, Tennessee (it was about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Metropolis).

A longtime friend, Arleigh R. Kerr, now lives in Lexington, Kentucky and recently completed a class on the Civil War history of Kentucky. He sent a general email to several of us history buffs and I received his permission to post it here. Paducah gets a mention in his email (highlighted by me).

He wrote:
Just finished a four day class on the Civil War in Kentucky.  Learned lots of interesting stuff — some of which follows.  Three of the four classes were in a “class room”, fourth and last was a walking tour of the Perryville Battlefield — the decisive battle in Kentucky that saved Kentucky for the Union. 
First off, did you know that Kentucky was neutral during the Civil War?  Yup.  Fort Sumter incident was on April 12, 1861.  In May 1861, Kentucky legislature declared neutrality and refused to assist either side or supply troops.  Even though slavery was legal in Kentucky, the population and the legislature were decidedly pro-Union, while the governor was pro-Southern. 
Sept 4, 1861, Confederates were to the first to violate Kentucky’s neutrality by invading western Kentucky and building Fort DuRussy near Columbus to control the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.  Two days later, Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant crossed the Mississippi and entered Paducah, Kentucky.  Three days after that, Kentucky Legislature voted resolution ordering the Confederates to withdraw, but only the Confederates.  The governor vetoed the resolution.  Legislature overrode the veto and ordered the US flag to be flown over the capitol.  Sept 18, 1861 Legislature voted to end neutrality and took the side of the Union. 
Over the next year, there were a number of Confederate attempts to invade Kentucky, none of which were successful.  The south desperately wanted Kentucky.  Kentucky was the economic center of the area.  They even reserved the center star in the Confederate battle flag for Kentucky.  The North too, saw Kentucky as the key to control the west.  At the beginning of the war, Lincoln is supposed to have said, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”. 
Fall of 1862, the Rebels made another attempt to take Kentucky.  They easily defeated Union forces at the battles of Richmond and Munfordville.  They captured Lexington and the state capital of Frankfort.  Then they tried to install a puppet pro-Confederate governor, only to have the inauguration ceremony interrupted by Union cavalry.   
About an hour southwest of where I live in Lexington is Perryville.  And it’s there where two armies converged on October 9, 1862.  55,000 Union troops versus 17,000 Rebels. 
After an afternoon of fighting, Confederates had pushed back the Union forces about a mile.  Fighting stopped for the night, by morning the Rebel army had withdrawn — they discovered fresh Union troops were arriving.  Confederates retreated into Tennessee and never again threatened Kentucky. 
Interesting little tidbits.  Kentucky U. S. Senator John Crittenden had two sons: Thomas, who became a Union general and George who was general in the Confederate Army.
Above, the Interstate 24 Bridge that connects Metropolis, Illinois and Paducah, Kentucky. Photo by Armand Vaquer.

According to stateparks.com:
[Fort Massac] served briefly as a training camp during the early years of the Civil War, marking the last time U.S. troops were stationed at the site. The fort was abandoned after a measles epidemic in 1861-62 claimed the lives of a substantial number of soldiers of the Third Illinois Cavalry and the 131st Illinois Infantry, who were using the fort as an encampment.

It is interesting that Gen. Grant's forces entered Kentucky at Paducah. 

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