Divided Loyalties: Kentucky’s Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War [Nov. 1860 to Nov. 1861]
Notes Concerning the Author
James W. Finck is a Virginian. He received his undergraduate degree in history at the College of William and Mary, master’s from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas. He has taught at the University of Texas-Pan American, and currently teaches at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Anyone seeking to understand, especially from a new, fresh perspective, the struggles within Kentucky regarding whether the Commonwealth should or should not secede during the crisis we call the Civil War, the book Divided Loyalties: Kentucky’s Struggle for Armed Neutrality in the Civil War by historian James W. Finck is highly recommended.
It becomes clearly obvious from the research Dr. Finck has done that much of the story has not been fully told, and some of what has been traditionally believed proves not to be accurate nor comprehensive.
We know the basics: there was a struggle within Kentucky, particularly between Governor Beriah Magoffin (who had pro-Confederate leanings) and the Legislature (which became more strongly pro-Union, especially as the secession “crisis” unfolded), which filtered down to the people. Our Commonwealth – whose motto was and is, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” – was intensely divided in sentiment, loyalties, and determination. And our official position, at least before and at the beginning of the conflict, was neutrality. While some would remain neutral, many of our citizens ultimately took a stand one way or the other, and in percentages different than has been presumed.
Thus our understanding of the reasons for such division – and even the extent of such divisions – needs closer examination, as Dr. Finck’s research shows. Kentucky was indeed a place where literal “brother-against-brother” scenarios prevailed. And it was a place where strong economic ties to the Union confronted strong social and cultural ties to the South and, by extention, to the Confederacy. As Dr. Finck explains, “…Kentucky sat on the border between the two nations and had loyalties to both.”
By the end of 1861, Kentucky had moved – at least at the behest of its political leaders and governmental authorities – from officially neutral to officially supporting the Union. This has been traditionally explained as deriving motivation solely from stronger ties to the Union than to the Confederacy, but as Finck demonstrates, such was not necessarily reflective of conditions in the state at the time, and the matter was much exceedingly more complex. In fact, Confederate sympathies were much more pronounced than has been presumed. The traditional evidence supporting “overwhelming Union support” is flawed, as Finck ably proves.
The thesis of the book, that Kentucky’s political and social divisions have been misunderstood or misinterpreted, is maintained by the author’s close examination of but one year: from November 1860 to November 1861. Political and social issues are described; cultural allegiances are explained; and political election results are chronicled and interpreted in the context of the state and the time.
Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the political background in Kentucky twenty years prior to the war, including the powerful Whig party and Kentuckian Henry Clay, and Kentucky’s decision in the presidential election of 1860 to not vote for native son Abraham Lincoln, Republican, nor native son, John C. Breckenridge, Democrat. Instead, Kentucky’s electoral votes went to Tennessean John C. Bell, candidate of the Constitutional Union Party.
Subsequent chapters focus on the events of the year, including choosing sides, compromise, neutrality, the end of neutrality, and events following the end of neutrality, which included Union efforts to sharply suppress any pro-Southern sentiment in the state, including arrests.
Kentucky’s legislature would ultimately divide into four factions, which, according to Finck, “roughly reflected divisions in the general population” (page 71): unconditional Unionism; secessionism; a compromise group which hoped, to the end, that concession could be realized and neutrality maintained; and, those opposing secession, but viewing Northern coercion as even more dangerous.
One of the more interesting, and certainly informative, aspects of the book is the detailed description of Kentucky elections during this period, and how they reflected deep divisions in the state – division deeper and sharper than previously described in other works. Included are many charts and graphs.
Governor Magoffin’s well-known quote, his reply to President Lincoln’s call for Kentucky to raise troops for the Union cause, is included in the book: “I say, emphatically, Kentucky will furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern States.”
Included in the book is an Appendix, including such documents as Magoffin’s proclamation of April 24, 1860, letters of Magoffin to both President Lincoln and President Jefferson Davis, excerpts from the 1860 party platforms of the Republican, Northern Democrat, Southern Democrat, and Constitutional Union political parties, and other very interesting and informative materials.
Finck summarizes that Kentucky’s neutrality arose from her geographic position and her strong Southern identity, that, “During the Civil War, Kentucky was a Union state, but Kentucky never fully embraced the Union cause. Many Kentuckians fought for the Confederacy, and many fought for the Union; but all did so, in a strange way, because of their loyalty to their state.”
In this regard, perhaps Kentucky was not nearly as “unlike” some other states as might have been initially supposed, for “in the end,” writes Finck, “in the hearts of its people, Kentucky meant more than either the Union or the Confederacy.”
Availability of this Book
This book is readily available at Amazon, and other book sellers.