A Kentucky Divided Cannot Stand

Growing up a middle child, I often felt pulled in two directions. On the one hand, I wanted to please Caroline — she was cool and older and probably right. On the other hand, I shared a room with Corinne and retribution has no bedtime.

Usually, my best approach was to stay neutral. Often, that attempt failed quickly and I’d give into whichever sister was asking me for something at the time.

This is something I have in common with My New Kentucky Home. (Life update: I live in Kentucky now.)

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Way back in the 1850s, when the Civil War was just beginning, Kentucky found itself in a pickle. Kentucky was a slave state but had a large abolitionist movement. It sat at the intersection of the North and the South and had deep allegiances on both sides.

Really deep allegiances. Both Abraham Lincoln, president of the Union, and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, were born in Kentucky. The state’s economy and access to everything outside of Kentucky relied on both the Ohio River, which flowed through the Union, and the Mississippi River, which went through the Confederacy. Kentucky’s entire livelihood depended on a United States.

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And both sides saw the value of Kentucky — its rivers, its manpower and its industry. All eyes were on the Bluegrass State. As Lincoln said, “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.” So Kentucky did what any smart middle child knows to do — hedge your bets.

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Kentucky declared itself neutral, so for a time, there was the Union, the Confederacy and Kentucky. That lasted four months until Kentucky bowed to the pressure and joined the Union forces.

But Kentucky was the third largest slave state and not everyone was willing to join up with Ol’ Honest Abe. A group of slave-holding Kentuckians met in 1861 to establish the Confederate State of Kentucky, a member of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis was hesitant to accept this shadow government (IRONIC) but eventually Kentucky became the 13th star on the flag of the Confederacy. They never left the Union, though, so Kentucky is the only state that had a star on both flags.

With the exception of Virginia, which literally lost the western part of itself to the Civil War, no state saw more internal conflict than Kentucky.

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Kentucky author John Fox Jr. wrote, when the war started, “it came like a sword that, with one stroke, slashed the State in twain, shearing through the strongest bonds that link one man to another.” In twain!

“As the nation was rent apart, so was the commonwealth; as the State, so was the county; as the county, the neighborhood; as the neighborhood, the family; and as the family, so brother and brother, father and son.”

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About 100,000 Kentuckians fought for the North and 40,000 fought for the South. Mary Todd Lincoln, a Kentuckian and wife of the leader of the Union, saw her brother, half-brothers and brothers-in-law fight for the Confederacy.

Any middle child knows the pain of the internal conflict that comes with being pulled in two different directions. But Kentucky responded in an … unexpected fashion.

Instead of getting with the program as the North began to whoop the South and slavery was on its way out, many Kentuckians chafed at the occupying Union army as they saw their lands, farms and men lost to the cause. And many didn’t want to see slavery abolished. (In fact, Kentucky was the second to last state to formally ratify the 14th amendment in 1976.) As the war wrapped up, Kentucky began to ally more with the Confederacy and started to see itself as more Southern than before the war began.

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Someone — perhaps a dashing young lady, new to town, with a mysterious past and a cat the size of a fat tiger — needs to teach the Bluegrass state how to bandwagon. See which way the tide is turning, people! Unify under the flag of the victors! Show up just in time to plunder the spoils and reap the rewards! Y’all put up a good fight — for both sides — in the Civil War, but man, you wouldn’t have made it 15 minutes as a middle child in the Klibanoff household.

Sources: A Concise History of Kentucky, James C. Klotter, Freda C. Klotter; Faces of Kentucky, James C. Klotter, Freda C. Klotter

 

 

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