Two statues, a military heritage commission, and the telling of history

Kentucky Revised Code. Legislative Research Commission.

The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, until recently, was a little-known state agency. Over the past week, the Commission has received quite a bit of news, both locally and nationally, as Lexington considers what to do with two statutes presently standing in the public square.

Yesterday’s unanimous vote by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council was to “support the relocation” of the two statutes, a decision that will ultimately be made by the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission.

The Statues

The two statues at issue are of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan. Both men were slaveowners who took up arms against the United States during the Civil War. Both men came from prominent, white Lexington families who were instrumental in Lexington’s 19th century growth and prominence (that familial success being achieved largely through the involuntary toil of slaves owned by the respective families).

Said one woman speaking to the LFUCG Council before their unanimous vote on August 18, 2017, “[Breckinridge and Morgan’s] only claim to fame is treason against this country.” Well, here’s a little more about the two men and the monuments that have stood for more than a century in the heart of Lexington…

John C. Breckinridge

The statue of John C. Breckinridge in its original location. Kentucky Digital Library.

Breckinridge was a Lexingtonian, a Vice President of the United States under President Buchanan, and then a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. But Breckinridge was expelled from the Senate upon joining the Confederate Army in 1861. He received a commission as a brigadier general; on February 7, 1865, Breckinridge would become the final Secretary of the Army for the Confederate States of America.

Statue of John Cabell Breckinridge. Collection of
Michael Swartzentruber.

In The Breckinridges of Kentucky, James Klotter (the state historian since 1980) described Breckinridge’s fate in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. By June 1865, the majority of the Confederate cabinet, including Vice President Stephens and President Davis, were captured and imprisoned. “Breckinridge determined early that he would not suffer such a fate.” Klotter writes of the Breckinridge’s escape from capture:

What followed enhanced the Breckinridge legend and surrounded an already appealing figure with even more romance. Here was a daring, charismatic Southern leader fleeing from Union pursues. Swarms of mosquitoes, ticks, sand-flies, and other insects of every description tormented him as he fled through Florida. In a boat too small to lie down in, the party rowed along the rivers of the area for days. Alligators surrounded them; rain soaked their food; hunger reduced them to eating turtle eggs, sour oranges, green limes, and coconuts. … Needing a larger boat to cross to Cuba, the “sailors” commandeered at gunpoint a larger craft. … The sloop No Name sailed into Cardenas, Cuba, on 11 June 1865. General Breckinridge – bronzed, unshaven, his feet swollen by salt water but the long mustache still intact, wearing a blue flannel suit open at the neck and an old slouch hat – was welcomed as a conquering hero. 

John Cabell Breckinridge remained on the lam through the remainder of the 1860s until after President Johnson had issued him amnesty; Breckinridge died in 1875. The statue commemorating Breckinridge was erected by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1887 in the middle of Cheapside Park.  In 2010, the statue was relocated so that it fronted Main Street making space for the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion. The bronze statute rests upon a granite pedestal, with each “being of equal height” according to the 1997 National Register nomination form.

John Hunt Morgan

Statue of the John Hunt Morgan. Author’s collection

John Hunt Morgan was born in Alabama, but his mother was raised in Lexington before marrying an Alabaman. John Hunt Morgan returned to Lexington for two years as a student at Transylvania before being suspended for dueling. During the Mexican War, Morgan achieved the rank of lieutenant in the United States Army.

John Hunt Morgan is best known, however, as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” He joined the Confederate Army in early 1862, and, following the Battle of Shiloh, began a series of raids. His raids were intended to disrupt Union supply lines and communications. His guerrilla tactics had as much, if not more, effect on citizens as it did on Union forces. In one raid, much of Cynthiana was burned. Morgan’s actions were unauthorized and, in 1864, he was killed by Union troops during a raid in Tennessee. Some persuasively argue that his death was akin to “suicide by police,” as he desired to neither be captured by Union forces nor court martialed by the Confederacy.

Hopemont, now known as the Hunt-Morgan House, was the home of Morgan’s maternal grandfather, John Wesley Hunt; it was built in 1814 and is located in Lexington’s Gratz Park neighborhood. John Wesley Hunt was the first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains. Henrietta Hunt, John Hunt Morgan’s mother, inherited the home. Although it was his mother’s home, John Hunt Morgan never lived here.

The statue of General Morgan was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911. New York sculptor Pompeo Coppini believed that “no hero should bestride a mare,” so he sculpted Morgan atop a stallion. Morgan’s horse, Black Bess, was not.

These two sculptures are located at Cheapside, the site of one of the South’s largest slave markets. Here, families were torn apart. Wives were separated from their husbands; children torn from the arms of their mothers. And, there can be no doubt, slaves owned by the Breckinridge and Hunt-Morgan families were sold on the very ground now memorializing these two men who rose up in arms against the United States.

The Military Commission

The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission was established in 2002 and is charged with “maintaining a registry of Kentucky military heritage sites and objects significant to the military history of the Commonwealth.” Sites accepted onto the registry “cannot be damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered, other than for repair or renovation, without the written consent of the commission.”

The commission consists of the Adjutant General, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Director of the Kentucky Historical Society, the Director of the Commission on Military Affairs and the Commissioner of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Both the Breckinridge and the Morgan monuments are included on the registry. As a result, their removal, destruction, or alteration, must have the written approval of this Commission.

By the Numbers

The registry of sites under the purview of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, as of January 2016, is available online (Word file). According to the KMHC, there are 230 “eligible” military sites and objects eligible for inclusion on the commission’s registry; only 25* sites or objects, however, are listed.

[* There actually is a little confusion as it pertains to the registry index. At the beginning of the report, there are total listings by county and a separate listing by war/conflict. According to the former list, there are 25 listings on the register which the latter list suggests 27. As I count the total listings, I count 27. Meanwhile, the war/conflict total list suggests 14 Civil War sites, while I only count only 12 as provided in the graphic below.]


Civil War Sites on the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission’s Registry (fn – *)

Among eligible sites/objects, 113 (49%) relate to the Civil War while 52% of sites on the KMHC registry relate to the Civil War. An overwhelming share of these pay homage to those who fought against the United States of America. (It’s worth noting that there are 0 sites/objects recognized as eligible from the War of 1812 despite the fact that 83% of military age Kentucky males served in the conflict fielding 36 regiments for the cause. Further 570,000 of saltpetre was mined out of Mammoth Cave and used in the war effort. Yet, no eligible sites or memorials?)

In Fayette County, there are 11 sites/objects identified although only 4 appear on the registry. Those four are the Breckinridge Monument, the Morgan Monument, the Confederate Soldier Monument (erected 1893), and the Confederate Monument (Ladies Memorial) (erected 1873). In other words, all 4 sites/objects on the registry (1) relate to the Civil War and (2) memorialize Confederate causes or individuals.

It cannot be ignored, by the nominations submitted to the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission have historically been more about the preservation of Confederate/Lost Cause history than anything else.

Of the 12 Civil War related sites/objects on the registry, 10 are connected to the Confederacy. That’s 83%. Now, keep in mind the following: Kentucky never seceded from the Union (we were, however, a house divided). Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky. More Kentuckians fought and died for the preservation of the Union than did for her destruction.

Telling History’s Story

Some have suggested that the removal of the statues in Lexington and across the country is a revision of history. I would argue to the contrary; the history memorialized by the Morgan and Breckinridge monuments does not properly tell of what truly transpired. What is more, it is a glorification of the worst among us. Furthermore, the history contained in these monuments is, itself, a revisionist history.

In the introduction to Creating a Confederate Kentucky, Anne Marshall quotes Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, “When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten.” The horror that Morgan poured out upon the Commonwealth was forgotten in favor of a perception of a genteel South and a noble cause.  Marshall went on to write:

The conservative racial, social, political, and gender values inherent in Confederate symbols and the Lost Cause greatly appealed to many white Kentuckians, who despite their devotion to the Union had never entered the war in order to free slaves. In a postwar world where racial boundaries were in flux, the Lost Cause and the conservative potluck that with it seemed not only a comforting reminder of a past free of late nineteenth-century insecurities but also a way to reinforce contemporary efforts to maintain white supremacy.

In discussing the unveiling of the Morgan statue, Marshall wrote:

There was no outward sign of public objection to the man who had brought destruction to so many civilians during the war and no mention of the irony that the state on which he had inflicted so much damages and the state whose people he had robbed of thousands of dollars in species and horseflesh had spent many thousands more to honor him.

James Klotter also examined Kentucky’s nostalgic shift toward embracing the Lost Cause in his book Kentucky: Portrait in Paradox 1900-1950. He wrote that in the final decades of the 1800s, “Kentucky turned more and more sympathetic to the Lost Cuase.” Klotter noted that in 1902, a Confederate Home was built for Southern veterans and funds were appropriated for Confederate graves at Perryville. In 1910, the state legislature appropriate funds to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the completion of the Morgan statue now at issue. In 1912, the state purchased the birthplace of Jefferson Davis. In 1926, Robert E. Lee’s birthday became a state holiday (and its not the only Confederate state holiday we celebrate in Kentucky).

Wrote Klotter,

Ironically, Kentucky had no need for a religion based on the Lost Cause, nor for a way to overcome the psychology of a tragic defeat – as did southerners generally – because most Kentuckians, and the state itself, had been on the winning side. Yet, they wholeheartedly embraced the mythology and the moonlight and magnolia image.

Much of the rewriting of history occurred in the waning years of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th century. The present discussion on removing the statues is not an attempt to hide history, but to tell a more complete and honest version of America’s history.

A Day Journal: Lexington by Bike

For those that have followed this blog for some time, you know I think that Lexington is an amazing city. Whenever my sister comes to visit, I love taking her on a bike ride to show her what has changed in the city where we spent so many years growing up. So we did Lexington by bike.

We ventured recently on a 5-hour, 10.4 mile tour (no-destination-style at an ultra-leisurely pace) with just a couple of targets in mind: we wanted to enjoy a couple brews from stops on the Brewgrass Trail. I wanted to show her what’s going on in the Distillery District and we wanted to pass our old Kentucky home.

We pulled our bikes off the bike rack where we parked on North Limestone in front of LTMS. We passed the old the old Episcopal mission on Fourth Street before cutting through the campus of Transylvania University and beside Old Morrison.

Gratz Park until Second Street when my sister declared she wanted to pass her favorite house in Lexington, the Thomas January House.To Jefferson Street where, upon cresting the viaduct, I showed my sister how the Lexington Center would expand and the beautifully proposed Town Branch Park would overtake the area.

In, through, and past the Distillery District, we turned right onto Forbes Road and discussed the fire at the stockyards. Her mind raced as she considered the potential reuse for that 10 +/- acres.

Down Leestown Road and into the Lexington Cemetery where I told her the stories of King Solomon, of John Hunt Morgan, and of Henry Clay. As we left the cemetery and with five miles behind us, we began to think about that first beer. To Blue Stallion!

The Hefeweizen was the perfect beer on that hot day! We filled our waters and immediately embarked for pint #2 at West Sixth (and for a bite at Smithtown Seafood!) We journeyed down Smith and Willie Streets before taking in the rainbow colored shotguns on Bourbon Street – the highlight of what remains of historic Smithtown for which the seafood restaurant takes its name!


I, of course, gave her an update on the Old Courthouse as we passed it. Then to our old Kentucky Home in the Historic Western Suburb, the iconic mural of Abraham Lincoln by Eduardo Kobra, and the new Henry Clay mural on Vine Street.

We learned that East Second Street Christian Church is contemplating a new site (according to the “Future Home Of…” sign) before admiring their circa 1875 church building.

Brochures obtained from the Visitor’s Bureau

Another stop during the day was a new one for me: The Lexington Visitor’s Bureau which has relocated to The Square (formerly Victorian Square). If you are visiting Lexington for the first or fifty-first time, stop at the Visitor’s Bureau. You’ll discover something new!

Of course, isn’t that always the case with Lexington? We certainly did during our 10.4 mile ride. #sharethelex

A post shared by Peter Brackney (@kaintuckeean) on Jul 20, 2017 at 12:10pm PDT

Celebrating Juneteenth: 150 Years Since Emancipation

 African Cemetery No. 2.

On June 19th, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. With them, came news of the end of the Civil War along with word that those enslaved were now free.

Despite this being more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Texans were so removed that the President’s executive order was never enforced. But Major General Gordon Granger offered this General Order No. 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Among those Union troops arriving at Galveston were six regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops organized in Kentucky. Those regiments, and the location of their organization, are listed below:
109th – Louisville
114th – Camp Nelson
115th – Bowling Green
116th – Camp Nelson
117th – Covington
122nd – Louisville

African Cemetery No. 2, Lexington, Ky. Fred Rogers/NRHP

Tomorrow – June 19, 2015 – marks 150 years from the anniversary of freedom for all Americans. Over the past 150 years, Juneteenth celebrations have become more commonplace … though the celebration is still not widespread.

Since 2003, Juneteenth has been annually celebrated in Lexington, Kentucky at the African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street (Note, however, that local festivities are held on Saturday closest to Juneteenth).

This year, the sesquicenntial celebration will include a flag ceremony honoring the 65 known USCT soldiers buried at the ceremony who served at Galveston. Also included will be discussions on Fayette County’s African-American hamlets of Bracktown and Adamstown.

Juneteenth Celebration
June 20, 2015
10:00 a.m. to noon

African  Cemetery No. 2.
419 E. Seventh St., Lexington

Free and open to the public.

The ‘Handsomest Public Monument in Jessamine County’

Confederate Monument in downtown Nicholasville.
Author’s Collection.

One hundred fifty years ago, the Union was engaged in a great Civil War. As a border state, Kentucky was as divided as the nation.

While the Commonwealth gave up 50,000 of her sons to the Confederacy, she offered fifty percent more to the cause of preserving the Union.

A star representing Kentucky could be found on the banner of both USA and CSA alike.

Although our state motto is “United we stand, Divided we fall,” the Commonwealth surely was divided during the War Between the States.

Yet after the War, Kentuckians found themselves enamored with “the Lost Cause.” Kentuckians largely rallied and united under this banner.

In so doing, Kentucky truly became a southern state.

Confederate Monument at the Jessamine
Courthouse. Author’s Collection.

Throughout Kentucky, there are tangible reminders of this transition. Though more Kentuckians fought and died wearing Union blue, there are more monuments in the Commonwealth recognizing the sacrifices of those who wore grey.

On Jessamine’s courthouse lawn stands one such monument. Atop an eleven-foot tall pedestal of unpolished granite stands a Confederate soldier cast in bronze.

Larger than life, the seven-foot tall Rebel is not at full attention. Instead, he appears to be resting with much of his weight being borne by his musket. Yet the soldier looks onward, ever watchful, with his gaze down Main Street.

Toward Lexington.

Toward the north.

(Though the soldier is mindful of an attack by Yankees from the north, the Union held Camp Nelson which is located south of the Courthouse. Had a Rebel scout been stationed on Nicholasville’s courthouse lawn, he would have surely seen Union troops on their way to reinforce Camp Nelson. Perhaps the Confederate soldier was resigned to the presence of his enemy?)

In his book “A History of Jessamine County, Kentucky,” Colonel Bennett H. Young (a Confederate veteran himself) described the monument as the “handsomest public monument in Jessamine County.” And truly, it is.

Text on the base of the Monument. Author’s Collection.

The monument was erected by the Jessamine Confederate Memorial Association and was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who were buried at the nearby Maple Grove cemetery. Carved into stone are these words of honor to the fallen Confederates:

Nor braver bled
for brighter land
nor brighter land
had a cause so grand.

In 1997, the monument and its base were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Memorial Association began raising funds for their monument in 1880 some 15 years after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. It would take another 16 years before the Association would be able to dedicate their monument.

Fundraising was still insufficient, but a slight change to the monument’s design helped finish the project. Of course, that “slight change” turned out to be quite significant: the bronze soldier was originally a Union soldier.

The monument company which sculpted the soldier had an unclaimed soldier which it was willing to part with at a discount. Alterations were made to render the unclaimed soldier into a Rebel.

Before a crowd of some 3,500, the Confederate Soldier Monument was dedicated on the courthouse lawn in Nicholasville on June 15, 1896. “The city of Nicholasville royally entertained all those who came to unit in the ceremonies,” wrote Col. Young.

Col. Young, then living in Louisville, attended and spoke at the dedication: “We come in tenderness and devotion and affection to mark, beautify and bless the soil that garners their dust, and to declare by this monument, which we trust will remain forever, that … our departed comrades shall be as deathless.”

A version of this column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal on August 20, 2014. It should not be republished without permission.

Camp Nelson is an American Treasure

On March 3, 1865, Congress emancipated all the wives and children of the United States Colored Troops who had not been previously emancipated from the bondage of slavery. This occurred following a public outcry when 102 family members of American soldiers died after being expelled from Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky.

Slaves had sought refuge at Camp Nelson where men joined the Union army and their families found temporary refuge. Nearly 24,000 African-Americans enlisted at Camp Nelson to join the army and, if they survived, attain their freedom. Federal policy only allowed free blacks or those with their owners’ permission to enlist. That is, until the policy changed at Camp Nelson.

These two stories are significant to our national historic fabric. They contribute to what makes our nation the land of the free and the home of the brave. And they were the focus, along with historic archeology, of the listing of Camp Nelson as a National Historic Landmark.

Dr. Stephen McBride, the Director of Interpretation and Archeology at Camp Nelson, told these two stories to those assembled on Saturday for the Celebration of History and Archaeology at Camp Nelson. The main event was the unveiling of the plaque identifying the Camp Nelson Historic and Archeological District as possessing “national significance as one of the nation’s largest recruitment and training centers for African-American soldiers during the American Civil War and as the site of a large refugee camp for women and children who were escaping slavery and seeking freedom.”

The designation as a National Historic Landmark is hugely significant.

Nationwide, there are only about 2,500 NHLs representing fewer than 3% of properties included in the National Register of Historic Place. (A National Register listing is a sign of a significant historic resource and is, of itself, not easily attainable).

Kentucky is a leader in designating its historic sites for inclusion on the National Register. Only New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio have more listings. Of the 3,300 Kentucky sites included on the National Register, only 32 are designated as National Historic Landmarks.

Jessamine County has 72 sites included on the National Register, but Camp Nelson is our only National Historic Landmark.

In other words, this is a big deal! And that’s because each of those two stories at the beginning of this column was a big deal.

Most news articles about the plaque unveiling won’t tell more of those stories than the plaque itself reveals. Instead, news accounts will discuss the politicians who were in attendance and the words that were said on Saturday.

But the significance of this site and of this designation were best told by an unnamed sergeant in the U.S. Colored Troops: “It used to be five hundred miles to get to Canada from Lexington, but now it is only eighteen miles! Camp Nelson is now our Canada.”

In September of last year, I wrote about the historic acreage in southern Jessamine County that was commandeered by the Union troops during the Civil War. The headline read that “Camp Nelson is a Jessamine County treasure.”

That was an understatement. Camp Nelson is a National Historic Landmark. It is an American treasure.

This column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal
It should not be republished without permission.

A National Landmark in Jessamine County: Camp Nelson

Headstones at Camp Nelson National Cemetery – Nicholasville, Ky.
(Photo: the Author)

Seven score and 10 years ago, four thousand acres of southern Jessamine’s rolling farmland was commandeered by Union troops under the order of General Ambrose Burnside.

In the previous decade, Oliver Perry had constructed a home for he and his wife.

Oliver Perry House at Camp Nelson – Nicholasville, Ky.
(Photo: the Author)

Their lovely white house overlooked the pike from Nicholasville. But in the middle of the Civil War, their home became the Union headquarters, third amendment to the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding. It remains as the only physical structure extant during the events that transpired here in the 1860s, with its two-story rear addition having been made during the occupation.

Perry’s mother-in-law, Mary Scott, owned much of the acreage that would be used by Union troops as Camp Nelson.

The location of Camp Nelson was ideal from a defensive perspective, being bounded on the west and south by the tall palisades over the Kentucky River.

The eastern border was met by the deep gorge cut by Hickman Creek. Only from the north was the threat of significant attack.

A series of forts were erected along this northern boundary while more than 300 structures were ultimately assembled within the bounds of Camp Nelson. It was here that Union supplies were assembled for use in conflicts near the Cumberland Gap and into Tennessee.

The camp’s utility as a supply depot was questioned in 1864 by General Ulysses S. Grant, who favored closing the facility. Others, including General William T. Sherman, favored its continued use.

Camp Nelson would become a center for enlistment of African-American troops into the Union Army, and it continued its role as a hospital. Family members of those black servicemen, as well as others of color, sought refugee status at Camp Nelson.

Refuge was found to be illegal, and 400 women and children were forced from the camp on the eve of the winter of 1864. This was the tragedy of Camp Nelson’s story as more than 100 of the refugees perished.

During occupation, two small cemeteries were utilized at Camp Nelson. Bodies placed in the one adjacent to the hospital, where victims to disease were first buried, were reinterred at cemetery number 2. This second cemetery was the first portion of what would become the Camp Nelson National Cemetery which was formally established in 1866.

Camp Nelson was designated a National Historic Landmark earlier this year. It is one of only 32 sites in Kentucky, and the only site in Jessamine County, to have such a designation. This designation is reserved for the designation of the most significant parts of our nation’s identity, and Jessamine County has long taken pride in her place in history.

Last weekend’s Civil War Days at Camp Nelson offered visitors and participants an opportunity to experience this tremendous part of our national and local history — a history now in its 150th year.

This column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal
It should not be republished without permission.

Oliver Perry House at Camp Nelson

Oliver Perry House
Photo: Camp Nelson

The answer: the Oliver Perry House at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

No one attempted to guess last week’s #Throwback Thursday puzzler. I suggested it was “newsworthy and noteworthy” and later noted that the old house was located in Jessamine County.

I thought the property recognizable because the photograph I initially had planned on using (picture below) was in the Lexington Herald-Leader last Tuesday in an article entitled “This weekend’s Civil War Days marks Camp Nelson’s 150th anniversary.”

Oliver Perry House – Camp Nelson – Jessamine Co., Ky.
Photo: U. of Kentucky / KDL

The photograph I utilized for last week’s #TBT (above at left) was Camp Nelson’s most notable landmark, known simply as the “White House.”

The two-story frame Greek Revival is officially called the Oliver Perry House. During the War, it was used as quarters for the officer and it is the only building remaining from the Civil War era at Camp Nelson.

Southern exposure of the Oliver Perry House showing the
two story addition made by Union troops
during occupation. (Photo: the Author)

Constructed by Oliver Perry for his new bride, Fannie (Scott) Perry, ca. 1850, the Union occupants added the rear two-bay deep addition. The building had fallen under complete disrepair prior to its meticulous restoration by the Jessamine County Fiscal Court which has been an instrumental force in preserving this historic area.

In 1863, General Ambrose Burnside (for whom the sideburn is named) commandeered the Perry-Scott House and it was utilized by the Union for two years. Surrounding landowners also had their lands confiscated by the Union army to amass and secure the 4,000 acre site. The largest landowner was Mary Scott, Fannie Scott-Perry’s mother.

There will be more on Camp Nelson and the Oliver Perry House in my column in this week’s Jessamine Journal which should be available in Nicholasville newsstands today. The column will also appear on Friday on this site.

In a place called Munfordville…

Hart County Courthouse – Munfordville, Ky.

Hart County has long been a place that I heard much about, but had never visited. A truly good friend from college was a Munfordvillian, and he used to regale me with stories of its importance in the Civil War. We used to laugh as my friend would amp up his southern drawl, and begin to speak of the battles that took place in this tiny little community – including tales of the local boy who went on to be a general in the Confederate Army, General Simon Bolivar Buckner.

Turns out he was right. Hart County was first settled in the late 18th century around the Horse Cave area, with Munfordville being settled in 1816. Munfordville was named for Richard T. Munford, the man who originally owned the land upon which the town sits. Its strategic position along the railroad that ran between Louisville and Nashville made it an important location during the Civil War. Throughout the war, bridges were burned both figuratively and literally in Hart County.

John Hunt Morgan burned the bridge over Bacon Creek in 1861.  During the Battle of Munfordville in 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg, at the urging of General Buckner, captured approximately 4,000 Union troops under the command of John T. Wilder. Bragg’s men also burned the bridge which crossed the Green River.

This is the third courthouse in Hart County, constructed in 1928. Except for a small circa 1918 bandstand, it is the only building within the court square itself. Listed on the National Register in 1980, this two-story Colonial Revival has an aura of classical Beaux-Arts design. It kind of reminded me of an old high school. When I visited, there appeared to be some renovation going on near the front entrance – a positive sign as judicial activities moved in 2008 to the new judicial center one block east of the old court square.

NoD: President Garfield became a General in Pikeville

Pikeville, Ky.
Pikeville City Park – Pikeville, Ky.

Last week on Jeopardy!, a question in the category 19th century Presidents concerned a man who simultaneously served as a congressman from Ohio, a senator-elect, and as President-elect. But before Ohioan James A. Garfield achieved these three titles, he served in the Civil War and was appointed brigadier general while encamped in Piketon n/k/a Pikeville.

President James A. Garfield

In early January 1862, Colonel James A. Garfield led Union troops to victory at the Battle of Middle Creek in Floyd County which forced Confederates out of southeast Kentucky and secured the Big Sandy Valley for the Union. During the battle, a company of Kentucky Unionists were almost the targets of a volley from their Ohioan compatriots but Col. Garfield – realizing the impending threat – caused the Kentuckians to let out a “Hurrah for the Union” – a cheer that saved their lives.

It was the victory that prompted Garfield to receive the commission of brigadier general in January 1862. Already headquartered in Pikeville when his commission arrived, there was no senior military brass to swear-in Garfield so the task was left to a justice of the peace, squire John Charles. Garfield was sworn in at the Ratliff Tavern (pictured below, at left) where he was also headquartered. The Ratliff Tavern was torn down in the 1930s to make room for the Pikeville City Park pictured above.

The following month, Gen. Garfield and his troops experienced what Pikeville residents were all to familiar with: flooding. In a letter to his wife, Garfield wrote:

Ratliff Tavern; source info.

The house where I am staying, which is sixty feet above the usual level of the river, is now surrounded. A wild river roars around it on all sides. Two large steamboats are up in the principal street of the village. Houses, stacks of wheat and hay, gigantic trees, saw-logs, fences, and all things that float are careening by with fearful velocity.

The flood left Union troops without supplies and they were forced to re-encamp on higher ground. The flood was so mighty that it even left two steamboats in the streets of Pikeville.

Garfield would leave the military for service in Congress where he would serve several terms before supporting his friend, John Sherman (the Treasury Secretary and brother of Civil War General William T. Sherman). President Grant was pursuing a return to the White House for an unprecedented third term as President, an outcome which many opposed. On the 36th ballot, Republicans picked the ‘dark horse’ James A. Garfield as their nominee for President. Garfield would go on to defeat General Winfield Scott Hancock in November. As history would have it, the Garfield administration was short-lived as he was assassinated only months after being sworn in.

Sources: Eastern Kentucky Battles; Johnson County History

NoD: Grayson Lake and the Kitchen-Horton House

Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky.
Grayson Lake – Carter County, Ky.

Named for the Carter County seat, Grayson Lake was formed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1964 from their formation of an earth and rock dam on the Little Sandy River. Now, almost 75 miles of shoreline in Carter and Elliott counties surround this beautiful lake of approximately 1,500 acres.

Filled with bluegill, bass, catfish, crappie, and trout, the lake is very popular with local anglers. But history has its tale at Grayson Lake as well. Whenever I visit an Army Corps manmade lake, I’m reminded of the scenes from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
when the valley is flooded saving George Clooney et al. from the gallows  (Youtube) as well as the following scene where he opines on the New South being hooked up to the grid (Youtube). Surely, much in the flooded valley of Grayson Lake was lost when the waters rose in the mid 1960s.

Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky.One structure, however, was moved from its foundation on the north bank of the Little Sandy River and now rests 700 feet northeasterly in a recreational area adjacent to the lake. The historic Van Kitchen Home (pictured at left) was built around 1835 by Elijah Horton. This log cabin was built in the “saddlebag” design, meaning two cabins close enough to one another that they share a common chimney. Although once prevalent through eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, the design has become quite rare.

After reaching Grayson during his “masterful retreat” from the Cumberland Gap, Gen. George Morgan (USA) continued toward Camp Dennison, Ohio with the Thunderbolt of the Confederacy – John Hunt Morgan – nipping at his heels. Gen. George Morgan supped at the Horton house and his men camped nearby, but their stay was disrupted by Gen. JHM’s men and a skirmish ensued. Bullet holes are still visible in the walls of the ol’ saddlebag’s second floor. The Van Kitchen House, named after the last family owning the house prior to the government’s acquisition in 1965, was listed on the National Register in 1974.


Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky. Kitchen-Horton House @ Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky. Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky. Grayson Lake - Grayson, Ky.
additional photos on flickr