When to Hold Your Move – Kentucky in the Civil War

Today in History, December 10, 1861:

Kentucky is accepted into the Confederacy by the Confederate government. However the act didn’t mean much.

When the war had begun, both sides very much wanted Kentucky, a well-positioned border state, contiguous with the Mississippi River, on their side.

However, it’s citizens were pretty evenly split in their allegiances between the North and the South, so they declared themselves neutral in the conflict.

President Lincoln very much wanted the state and it’s resources, but what he wanted even more was not to push them to the South, so he accepted their neutrality.

In September of 1861 the Confederacy, in the form of Gen. Leonidas K. Polk, violated that neutrality by ordering the occupation of Columbus and setting up a fort there.

Union Gen. U. S. Grant responded by occupying Paducah; Union assets had to be defended, and a strategic Confederate presence could not go unopposed.

The Kentucky assembly responded by issuing a proclamation ordering the Confederates out and the US flag to be flown over the capitol. Polk had chosen a side for them.

Soon a shadow government of Confederate sympathizers was formed, elected a governor, and applied for entry into the Confederacy, which was granted.

While Kentucky did have regiments on both sides of the conflict, the Confederate government of the state was impotent, soon having to leave the state, finishing the war by trailing the Army of the Tennessee around the South. Their elected governor was killed at Shiloh.

Vicksburg

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Today in History, July 4, 1863:

Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrenders Vicksburg, Mississippi to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Pemberton had sent a note asking for terms on the 3rd, and initially Grant gave is usual “unconditional surrender” response. He then thought about what he would do with 30,000 starving Southern troops, who he had lay siege to since May 18th, and granted them parole, accepting the surrender on the 4th.

The capture of Vicksburg effectively cut off of the Confederate states west of the Mississippi (and their supplies) from the South. Grant’s parole of the rebels would come back to bite him, as the Confederacy did not recognize it’s terms and many of them fought again…which came back to bite the Confederacy because as a result the Union stopped trading prisoners.

The South knew the consequences of the loss of Vicksburg.  It would be many, many years before Independence Day was celebrated in Vicksburg again.

Almost Home…the SS Sultana Tragedy

Today in History, April 27: 1865 – The SS Sultana. They had left their farms, their jobs and their families, to fight for the Union, some for glory, some for honor. Any glory in the war faded, as it always must, as they fought through terrible battles. They saw their friends die mutilated, many of them suffered irreparable injuries. Then they were captured by their enemy and sent to horrific prison camps such as the despised Andersonville. Conditions there were unspeakable; even if the Confederates had any sympathy for them, the South didn’t have the resources to care for it’s own, much less it’s prisoners. Finally after months or years of starvation and brutality, the war was over; they were liberated. They were going home! Can you imagine the joy, the rapture they must have felt? Most had to have believed it would never happen, that they would die in their captivity. They marched (those that could still walk) to ports on the Mississippi to board steamships for the trip north and home. Desperate to get home as quickly as possible, they begged, cajoled, bartered or simply boarded the overloaded river boats clandestinely. You can take just one more, right? The steamer SS Sultana was one of those commissioned by the Union Government to get them home. Her capacity was for 376 passengers. 376. By the time she sailed from the captured city of Vicksburg, MS she was loaded down with at least 2,400…mostly those Union prisoners on their way home. At 2 AM on the 27th of April her decks and quarters were jammed beyond capacity, but their must have been peace amongst the passengers. The ship was top heavy and as she made the turns of the river, the water in her inter-connected boilers sloshed back and forth, lowering the water levels in the boilers opposite the turn. One of the boilers had been hastily patched to allow her use on the trip. Suddenly, one of the boilers burst, causing at least two more to follow. The ship exploded, the suddenly escaping steam burned hundreds to death in an instant, setting the wooden ship afire to kill hundreds more. Most of those that managed to escape the ship into the water, already emaciated, drowned before they could be rescued; the first ship to reach them was an hour away in the frigid waters. Of the 2,400, as many as 1,900 perished. 7 to 9 miles above Memphis on the river, even the recently defeated Confederates there responded with compassion, opening their homes to the few survivors.