The Civil War

The war which opened the vast area of Texas to the expansion of slavery proved a costly but vain experiment, and the cry for ” more room ” was soon heard as urgent as before. There was no expedient by which the issue which was fast hurrying on could be evaded. The tastes and habits of the people made national politics an absorbing topic, and while nothing here contributed to disturb the unanimity of sentiment, the popular sympathy was not wholly with either of the pre-dominant political factions. Todd County was unanimously opposed to emancipation, a firm supporter of the principles enunciated in the famous ” Resolutions of 1798,” and remained to the last a devoted supporter of the Whig school of politics. On the triumph of the Republican party in the election of Lincoln, the general sentiment accepted it as the inevitable result of popular elections, and accepted the defeat in good faith. But the ominous mutterings of the “Cotton States” could not fail to awaken the liveliest concern in regard to the future. There were no elements of agitation here, but the popular sympathy was strongly with the radical measures adopted in certain communities to drive out the friends of emancipation from the State, and with the legislative efforts to entrench the “domestic institution.” But with this was an overwhelming loyalty to the Union, and a desire to avert the threatening collision. In the celebrated ” Peace Convention ” which met in Washington February 4, 1861, Todd County was represented in the person of Hon. Francis M. Bristow. The attack on Fort Sumter and its surrender dispelled the fond illusion that war could be averted, and the Lexington speech of the Hon. John J. Crittenden, on April 17, voiced the popular feeling here. The sentiment was: “Kentucky had done nothing to bring the war about; she had not invited it; it was against her interests and she should do nothing to promote it, but by all the moral force of her position, should bravely hold on to the flag of the Union, and under its broad folds extend the hand of conciliation to both.” The position, however logical, was impracticable, not only in Todd County but throughout the State. The partisans of either side strove to turn the popular tide to their own ad-vantage, and the ” moral force ” of neutrality proved “a little more than kin and less than kind” to either faction. In Todd County the prevailing sentiment stood firm for the Union for some time, though intensely sensitive as to the final effect of the war upon slavery. This proved the weak point in her armor of neutrality. On every available occasion the great questions involved were discussed with an earnest eloquence which bespoke sincerity on the part of the participants. Although the old-time State-leaders of the people continued to counsel the giving of aid and countenance to neither the National nor rebellious cause, the nature and the training of the people were opposed to it. The chivalrous blood of the Kentuckian bounded through his veins at quicker speed, to think of the promise of heroic action on one side or the other. Too hot-blooded to be a cynic, he must act the partisan. Loyal to the teaching of the “Resolutions of 1798,” the action of the leading State men was largely favor-able to the rebellious States. In an address issued by the Union State Central Committee, composed of Harney, Prentice, Bullock, Speed, etc., their position was defined as follows: “What the future duty of Kentucky may be, we of course cannot with certainty foresee; but if the enterprise announced by the President should at any time hereafter assume the aspect of a war for the overrunning and subjugation of the seceding States-through the full assertion therein of the national jurisdiction by a standing military force-we do not hesitate to say that Kentucky should promptly unsheath her sword in behalf of what will then have become the common cause.” Such language was unmistakably in favor of the rebelling States, and opposed to the assertion of the national authority by force of arms. Todd County was flanked on the west by the Union sentiment of Christian, and the violent rebellious sentiment of Logan on the east, and soon began to waver in its neutral position. Hon. James A. Russell gave the influence of his eloquence to the Southern cause, and declared his earnest convictions far and near with telling effect. In one of his earliest efforts in the court house at Elkton, with almost prophetic insight, he declared that if war ensued “the tramp of a Negro soldiery will be heard in our streets, and the glint of their bayonets in this hall of justice.” The cause of the Union was advocated with equal fervor by Hon. F. M. Bristow, his son, Benjamin H., and Judge Ben. T. Perkins, Sr., who declared that the war was waged solely for the maintenance of the National authority, and that if any attempt was made to interfere with the ” domestic institutions ” of a State, they too would be ready to take up arms in defense of their rights.

The hill country of the county was strongly in favor of the Union; for a time even Russell, who was greatly respected, was not allowed to make speeches there, and the dividing line between the two factions in this county may be said to be the line dividing the rich farming district of the south and the broken, hilly country of the north-the slaveholding and non-population of the county. Enlistments were rapidly going forward in the State without regard to the obligations of a neutral power, and by the middle of May a regiment of Kentucky troops, under the command of Blanton Duncan, had rendezvoused at Harper’s Ferry, Va., in the interest of the Confederate cause. By July several regiments of Kentuckians were forming at Camp Boone, eight miles from Clarksville, for the Confederate service, and at Camp Clay, opposite Newport, and at Camp Joe Holt, opposite Louisville, four Kentucky regiments were forming for the national service. In August a Federal camp–Dick Robinson-was boldly established by Gen. Nelson in Garrard County, Ky., which called forth the indignant remonstrance of Gov. Magoffin through two commissioners. The President replied that this force consisted solely of Kentuckians in the vicinity of their homes, and was raised at the urgent solicitation of many Kentuckians, and declined to move it.. In September the Confederate troops from Tennessee occupied and fortified strong positions at Hickman and Columbus, Ky., and Federal troops occupied Paducah. In the same month the Legislature passed a resolution demanding the unconditional withdrawal of the Confederate troops, and at, the same time refused to demand the same of the Federal force, or to pass a resolution demanding both to withdraw. Thus even the pretense of neutrality was overturned with a leaning toward the National cause, but the policy of temporizing was still continued.


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top