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Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
IT was in Kentucky that Secession received its first important check. Had Kentucky passed a vote in favour of seceding, the whole of the border Slave States would have gone with the South, and the suppression of the insurrection would have been indefinitely, if not permanently, postponed. The sentiments of Kentucky, being, as she is, an offshoot of Virginia, were all with the South, but her interests were all with the North. In this conflict of opposing forces she stood neutral. In all insurrections it is an invariable rule that whosoever is not with you is against you. So it proved here. The famous declaration of neutrality, issued by the State Government of Kentucky, proved of no service to the South, and was disregarded by both parties alike. In utter defiance of their favourite doctrine of State rights, the Confederates resolved to force Kentucky into active co-operation, and it was for this purpose, according to his own confession, that General Sidney Johnston, the ablest, perhaps, of the
Confederate Generals, whose death at Pittsburgh Landing proved a heavy blow to the South, invaded Kentucky. His motive in so doing, as he stated in his report to Jefferson Davis, was political rather than military. Happily for the North, the Union feeling of Kentucky was roused at this attempt at coercion. Troops enough were raised in the State itself to check the Confederate advance until the Federal Government had time to form its armies. The result was that the Confederates were never able to establish themselves in any force farther than Bowling Green, which lies only a few miles north of the Tennessee frontier.
By a sort of moral retribution, the only State in the Union which proposed to remain neutral, has in reality suffered most from the effects of the war. I recollect, at the time of the annexation of Savoy, reading a statement in one of the imperialist Savoyard papers, to the effect that where their rivers run, there their hearts turned also. The saying might be far more truly applied to the Western States. Their very life flows with the course of their rivers. The stoppage of the Mississippi, and the streams which flow into it, is absolute death to the trade of the West. Free access to the Gulf of Mexico is essential to its development. Thus Kentucky, though up to this time it had been saved from much actual war, experienced more loss than all the other States. In the country districts, the actual suffering was not perhaps so great. Wheat and corn
and maize had fetched unusually good prices, while the demand for Government supplies created an artificial market for cattle. In the towns, however, there was nothing to neutralize the paralysing effects of the war and the complete stoppage of the Southern trade. Louisville, the virtual though not the nominal capital of the State (for in Kentucky, as in most other States of the Union, the actual seat of government is placed purposely in some town of small importance), has suffered terribly. Out of seventy jobbing houses which carried on business here before the war broke out, only two are left standing. The others have failed or have moved elsewhere. The pork trade with the South, which was one of the staples of Louisville commerce, has completely fallen off. The carrying trade on the Ohio river came altogether to an end, except for Government stores. The iron and metal factories had all suspended work. There has not been any absolute distress amongst the working classes. The country is so fertile that absolute want was a thing still unknown, but there was a total stoppage of the growth of Louisville, or rather an actual retrogression in its career. Within forty years Louisville had grown from a city of four thousand souls to one numbering upwards of seventy thousand inhabitants; but during the first year since the outbreak of the war, the population had diminished by some ten thousand persons.
The aspect of the city bore out these statements,
which were made to me by merchants resident in Louisville. In former times it must have been a place of great commercial activity, though of no great interest to the "uncommercial traveller." There is one striking peculiarity of a negative rather than a positive order, common to almost all American towns, and that is, that they have no sights. When you have taken your first half-hour's stroll about any town you happen to pass the night in, you know as much about it externally as if you had lived there for a month. Every town is built on the same system, has the same series of more or less lengthy rectangular streets, the same large spacious stores, the same snug, unpicturesque rows of villas, detached or semi-detached as the case may be, the same sombre churches, built in the architectural style of St. Clement Danes or St. Mary's, Bryanstone Square, and the same nomenclature of streets the invariable Walnut, Chestnut, Front, and Main streets crossed by the same perpendicular streets, numbered First, Second, and so on to any number you like, according to the size of the town. I have often wondered how, supposing you could be put down unexpectedly in an ordinary American town, you could ascertain by observation that you were not in England. Of course the quantity of mules used for the carts is not English. The climate, at least between April and November, is not English. The street railroads are, or rather were, un-English, and the negroes you see loitering about the streets with the
coloured silk handkerchiefs, which, in all Slave States, they wear bound about their heads, are happily not English also. Still, the main difference is, that everything about you would look so new and so unfinished; and this is a difference which it is easier to understand than to describe. I should think that even the compiler of a local handbook would find it difficult to say much about Louisville. When I was there, there was a sleepy, drowsy look about the place which could not have been usual to it. On every side you saw long rows of shut-up stores, and large factories whose gates were closed, and from whose chimneys no smoke issued. The river-side was crowded with numbers of steamers, laid up for want of freights. There were no trucks about the streets, and no appearance of goods being carried between the different stations. The common people to whom I spoke all told me the same story, that prices of living were uncommonly high, that work was unusually slack, and that instead of making money, as in former years, the most they could hope for was to be able to pay their way.
Still, with all this, the country round Louisville is so rich that it seems impossible to a stranger to associate the idea of distress with it. During my stay there, which I prolonged for some days, partly because there is one of the best hotels in all the Union at Louisville, I went out a good deal into the surrounding country. The institution of slavery has not been able to mar the
appearance of physical prosperity, and that is saying a good deal. I doubt whether even a Bourbon régime could destroy it under a century. Even more than the State of Ohio, Kentucky is the garden country of the States. When you get out into the little country towns, you seem to have got into an England where the sun shines, and where there is no poverty. The German clement has no great strength there, and the old English element of Virginia is still in the ascendant. In Frankfort, or in Lexington, or in any of the country towns of what is called the Blue Grass region of Kentucky, you require the sight of the railroad running along the streets to show you that you are not in an English county town. The main street, with its quiet little shops, its depôts of agricultural implements, its small town houses standing a little way back from the road, and fronted by the plots of lawn, and its whole sleepy, lazy air, is the exact counterpart of an English High Street. The inns, too, are not called "houses," or even hotels, but inns, with old-fashioned English signs of the Phoenix and the Lion swinging over their doors; and the stages which meet the trains at the different stations are like resuscitated four-horse coaches, only that the drivers are negroes. All round the towns there are small country houses standing in their own grounds, which might have been transported bodily from the old country. In the May time, when I was
there, the weather was like that of an English summer, and the pasture lands were as green, and the crops as rich, and the fields as carefully tilled and hedged in, as they would have been in Warwickshire. There was hardly a trace of that shiftless slovenliness I observed in every other Slave State, and the slaves themselves were better dressed, and brighter looking. In the houses, too, whose doors and windows were thrown open to let in the cool air, you saw the negro children playing about carelessly in a way that seemed to bespeak a considerable degree of kindness on the part of their masters. From all inquiries I could make, I gathered that the feelings of Kentucky with regard to secession were of a very mixed character. Up to the beginning of the spring, the southern portion of the State was more or less subject to the Confederate government. The first of the Union victories was that of Mill Springs, in Kentucky, where General Zollikoffer was killed. But, with this exception, there had been then little actual fighting in the State, and, with the evacuation of Bowling Green, the authority of the Union was restored without resistance. In the Federal armies there were thirty-two Kentucky regiments, which would represent a force of some twenty-five thousand men, and there were supposed to be about six thousand Kentuckians in the Confederate service. At the battle of Shiloh, two Federal Kentucky regiments charged a Confederate one from their own State, and the belief
is, judging from their own heavy loss, that they destroyed full half of it. In Kentucky, perhaps, more than anywhere else, the civil war produced that division of families and friends which forms the most fearful incident in the struggle. I suppose there is scarcely a Kentuckian who has not friends or relations fighting on each side. As far as I could collect, whenever there was a direct political issue laid before the State, the Unionists carried all before them. During the palmiest days of the insurrection, the largest secession vote ever given in Louisville was nine hundred out of nine thousand votes. At the last election, Mr. Crittenden, the Union candidate, was carried by a large majority against an opponent who was supposed to be friendly to secession; but last spring, when this gentleman, who is one of the most popular and respected men in the State, wished to resign his seat in the House of Representatives, in order to be elected Senator, the Union Electoral Committee requested him not to do so, as, with a candidate less personally popular than himself, they could not be sure of carrying the election.
There was, however, a very large, and what is more, a very noisy secession element in Kentucky. Residents in Louisville, Unionists as well as Secessionists, assured me that the number of sympathizers with the South was very great, and that any reverse of the Federal forces would be the signal for an Anti-union demonstration.
The Confederate prisoners whom I visited seemed in good condition and in high spirits; and the gaolers complained to me that there was much more charity shown by private families in Louisville towards the rebels than towards the wounded Federal soldiers. If the charitable donations of the friends of secession included soap, I can only say that their protegés made a thankless return for the kindness displayed. It was a startling fact, also, that the Government had to prohibit the public burial of Confederate soldiers in Kentucky, on account of the secession demonstrations to which they gave place. Shortly before I was there, at the funeral of a Confederate officer, at Louisville, over three thousand persons assembled to escort the corpse. It is true that the officer in question was well known and respected in the town, and that his wife was the daughter of the most popular of the Episcopalian clergymen in the city; but still these facts would not account for a tenth part of the crowd. Again, soon after the battle of Shiloh, a wounded Confederate soldier of Louisiana, a private, who died of his wounds on the voyage up the Ohio, was left at the little town of Owensburgh for burial. He was not personally known at the place, but this was the account of his funeral, as given by a local paper: "A meeting was called by the Southern citizens of the town, and preparations made for a suitable burial. Long before the appointed time, our streets were crowded with people, from all sections of the
county, who had come to witness the solemn ceremony. At two o'clock the remains were conveyed to the Methodist church, where an impressive and eloquent funeral oration was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Nicolson. The number of spectators at the church was variously estimated at from one thousand to fifteen hundred. After the exercises at the church were concluded, the procession repaired to the cemetery, where they deposited the remains of the brave but unfortunate soldier, who died while nobly battling in defence of his country and his country's cause. It may be some consolation to the friends of the deceased to know that, though buried amongst strangers, in a strange land, he was interred in a manner becoming his cause, and that thousands of sympathizing tears were shed over his grave for the loved ones at home, and many a fervent prayer offered up to God for his safe deliverance to that haven of rest where strife, dissensions, and abolitionism never enter, and where peace and harmony reign for ever."
I have quoted this article, not only as a proof of secession feeling, but as evidence of the extreme liberty of speech allowed by the Federal Government in Kentucky. Even in Ireland, the Nation could hardly be more outspoken without danger of suppression. At the public bar-rooms in Louisville, I myself was present at conversations in which open sympathy for the South and bitter animosity towards the Lincoln Government
was expressed as freely as it could have been in Mr. Mason's drawing-room in London. In the towns it was found necessary to exclude all women suspected of Secession proclivities from the military hospitals, because they insulted the wounded Federal soldiers. In fact, the feeling of Kentucky towards secession is entirely different from what it is in the North. Events have proved that the majority the great majority of Kentuckians were opposed to secession, and were ready to suppress it at the cost of war. They looked upon it as unwise, destructive to their own interests, and unjustified by law, but they did not, as Northern men did, look upon it as unprovoked. They sympathized keenly with the sentiment of secession, though they disapproved its active manifestation. In plainer words, Kentucky is a slave-holding State, and therefore against her judgment, and in spite of her interest, could not help sympathizing with slaveholders. The bitterness against the Abolitionists and the Administration was extreme. The constant cry in all the border State newspapers was, that Northern Secessionism must be put down, as well as Southern, and that Wendell Phillips and Sumner deserved the same punishment as Davis and Floyd. Here is a specimen of the sort of article which appeared daily in the Kentucky and Tennessee papers, and which I picked out of the Nashville Union, the official organ of the military governor, Mr. Andrew Johnson, who had just been selected for the post by the Cabinet at
Washington: "The Louisville Journal contains a scathing notice of Wendell Phillips. It is a well-merited castigation of that flashy, blasphemous incendiary, and half crazed Jacobin. Phillips is as vile a dis-Unionist as Jeff. Davis or William L. Yancey. May the devil seize the tribe!" As early as last spring, in Kentucky, the Washington Administration was regarded as completely in the hands of the Abolitionist party. The emancipation of the slaves in the district of Columbia had given great offence, and was stated openly by Union men to be a certain step towards prolonging the war. In talking to an old Kentucky statesman the staunchest of Union men, and a member, some years ago, of the Federal Government about a rumoured intention of the border States members to withdraw from Congress, I learnt, to my surprise, that he completely approved of the idea, if, by rendering either House unable to form a quorum, it could bring the anti-slavery legislation to a dead lock. This gentleman, I should add, was not a slaveholder, and had never, as a matter of personal feeling, held slaves; but as a Kentuckian, his sympathies were all with the Slave States.
Indeed, the old Democratic politicians, of whom my friend had been a leading member, reckoned confidently that as soon as the insurrection was suppressed, the insurgent states would resume their seats in Congress; that throughout the North, there would be a great reaction against the Republican party after the war, and
that in consequence there would be a return of something like the old pro-slavery Democratic rule. I believe myself this calculation would probably have turned out correct, and might still prove correct, at least for a certain period, if the insurgent States possessed wisdom enough to see their own interests, and accept frankly the restoration of the Union. On the other hand, the course of events in Kentucky and Tennessee, after the Union authority was restored, held out no probability that such would be the case. At this time I heard a leading Republican senator say to Mr. Sumner, "What will save us will be not our own merits, but the mistakes of our enemies;" and I take this to be the truth. Already, in the Free State papers you could see indications of impatience at the want of loyalty shown towards the Union in the border Slave States; and even in other than Abolition organs an opinion began to be timidly suggested that the power of the slaveholding interest was the one obstacle in the way of re-union. It was symbolical of this altered tone of feeling, that Mr. Maynard, a representative of Tennessee, and himself a slaveholder, declared, on his return to the House from a journey through his own State, that his visit had convinced him of the necessity of some measure of confiscation. So, in the Cincinnati papers, there were letters daily published, urging on Union, not on Abolition grounds, that the slaveholders must always be, hostile to the Union, and
that the power of hostility should be removed from their hands. All these things were indications which way the wind was beginning to blow. In truth, Kentucky, like all the so-called loyal Slave States, was about equally afraid of the triumph of its friends and of its opponents. The result was, that the State was still halting between the North and South. Its sentiments drew it towards the latter, and its interest towards the former.
Let me add, in passing, that Kentucky is the first State in the Union where I saw lottery offices in every street, and where the old notices in the shop-windows, that I remember so well in Italy, caught my eyes, requesting passers-by to tempt fortune, and to win five thousand dollars at the risk of one.
Dicey, Edward. Six Months in the Federal States, Vol. II . London: MacMillan and Co., 1863. [format: book], [genre: travelogue]. Permission: Newberry Library
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