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Why should we in Kentucky care about the Civil War?

Celebrate Ky.’s valuable role in the Civil War

By David Trimble

Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010 6:13 AM EDTI have received the great honor, to me at least, of being appointed, along with Georgetown College professor Dr. James Klotter, as a Commissioner to serve on the Commonwealth of Kentucky Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. The twenty-four members of the Commission are tasked to support, organize, coordinate, and promote Kentucky’s commemoration of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, 2011-2015.

“There he goes again,” you say, “prattling on about the Civil War.”

Yes, indeed, I am. Why? It is important. Not only do we need to honor and respect the accomplishments of our forebears, but we need to understand how we got to where we are in Kentucky, and in the United States, through the challenging course of our journeys together.

Many of the issues of that day are still significant. Thankfully we are free of slavery in the 21st century, and have been so since the adoption of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. But the overarching issues between the states, arising out of the imposition of Federal powers over states’ issues, primarily taxation through imposition of punitive tariffs, are at their core the very same Tenth Amendment limitations on Federal powers that are being so abused and over-run today.

Do most Americans have a working knowledge of the Constitution and how its application, or lack thereof, has formed today’s United States? Probably not. The sad truth is that most members of our Congress, and the current administration, probably also lack that knowledge, judging by their actions and political positions.

But what of Kentucky? Why should we in Kentucky care about the Civil War? The singular reason is that Kentucky is as significant as any other state, including Virginia, in considering the Civil War. We were then thought of as a “border state,” caught as we were between the North and South. Our populace was torn between the two sides, often down to disputes between family members and formerly close friends. Kentucky was a microcosm of what was going on throughout the United States.

Both sides coveted Kentucky. Both opposing presidents were Kentucky natives. Both believed that Kentucky would be a key state in raising troops, obtaining supplies, and in the strategy to be pursued as the war continued beyond the initial firefights. The campaign that ended at Perryville could have, if the Confederates were successful, placed an army on the banks of the Ohio River, threatening the heartland of Ohio and Indiana, drastically affecting the War in Virginia and elsewhere.

Here at home, the conflict divided our populace, and the effects of those divisions continue to this day. One of the clearest examples is the political allegiance in many of our counties. If a county is primarily Republican today, it is likely that it favored the North in the War, and vice versa. Political traditions die hard in Kentucky, and some are perpetual. Knowing something about their genesis can only help understand the partisanship of today.

I also tend to believe that the loss of more than 600,000 soldiers, mostly young men, indelibly affected our state in ways we have yet to understand.

Tragic, violent death came closer to everyone than in any other time in our history. The loss of the cream of our collective youth cannot help but have damaged who we now are, as a people. Any who mourn that we no longer have leaders such as our Founding Fathers should consider whether the Civil War played a role in that result.

I have long opposed the “dumbing down” of the Civil War to the simple theme of “Lincoln Freed the Slaves.” There is little question that the war did end slavery in the U.S. But to think that its effects stopped there is to severely undervalue the power of those events. The United States survived a conflagration of Biblical proportions, great armies opposing one another, and changes in how we look at our Federal government and its power over our lives, and yet survived it.

Bottom line, over the next five years, join us on a journey to our past and an understanding of our future.

David Trimble, a Georgetown resident, is an attorney and his column, The Bottom Line, appears every Thursday in the News-Graphic. Readers can find more of Trimble’s writing at his blog, stillonpatrol.typepad.com, or e-mail him atstillonpatrol@hotmail.com.

One Response to “Why should we in Kentucky care about the Civil War?”

  1. Michael J DenisNo Gravatar says:

    Though I am now retired — from Maine to Kentucky — as a history teacher, I guess I was a contrarian. I taught the Revolution from the British point of view, and the Civil War from the Southern point of view. I didn’t want my students to get the idea that the US was obviously going to win the Revolution, nor did I want them to believe that the North was obviously going to win the Civil War. What they came away with was an appreciation of BOTH sides in both conflicts. Now I find that most history teachers even here in Kentucky teach from the Northern point of view — of course, because the North won. But as late as September 1864 it was not obvious to the participants, not even to Lincoln himself. The phrase, “he who wins the war writes the history” is so true, considering how the Civil War is generally taught. My students realized that slavery was an important issue, but it was by no means the ONLY issue. And now that I’ve retired to Kentucky — by choice — I see that the Civil War is still going on in many aspects today. I have friends in Paducah, members of the UDC, who, when saying “the war”, mean the Civil War. The Civil War made Kentucky what it is today, and I told my students that Kentucky actually seceded AFTER the war was over because of the way the Commonwealth was treated by the Union — in a manner very similar to the way South Carolina and Louisiana were treated.

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