Kentucky

By Ziv Carmi ’23

Historical Context

In the narrative of the Civil War, the story of Kentucky, the home state of both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, is quite unusual indeed. Since the ratification of its first constitution in 1792, Kentuckians’ right to own slavery was protected (Marshall 2010). However, within the state, slavery varied drastically. In the lush northern Bluegrass region, the use of slavery to grow hemp manifested itself similarly to Southern plantations, while, in the western areas, slavery was slightly less common, but still necessary to produce tobacco (Marshall 2010). The cities of Louisville, Covington, and Newport were all commercial centers with widespread slavery, similar to those in the east, like Baltimore (Marshall 2010). In the eastern areas, slavery was far less common due to the mountainous terrain, which was less conducive to agriculture (Marshall 2010). Due to a short growing season for both tobacco and hemp, farmers often forced their enslaved people to also grow and harvest corn and wheat; however, this agricultural style resulted in a reputation of supposedly “benign slavery” when compared to the harsher cotton plantations in the deeper South (Marshall 2010).

Unlike other Southern states, enslaved people did not comprise a large proportion of the population. According to the 1850 census, approximately 28% of white Kentucky families owned slaves; however, the average slaveholder owned 5.4 enslaved people, the second lowest average per owner in the antebellum South (Marshall 2010). By 1860, the number of slaveholders had increased to make the state’s total slaveholding population the third highest, only behind Virginia and Georgia, indicating widespread ownership of enslaved people, despite relatively small individual ownership of slaves (Marshall 2010). Of the Kentucky slave owners, 57% had fewer than five slaves, only seventy owned more than fifty people, and only seven whites enslaved over one hundred people (Marshall 2010). These numbers indicate that slavery was widespread, but, unlike in other states where it was more typical of the aristocratic plantation elite to own a large slave labor force (with non-slaveholders hiring out slaves for specific tasks or periods of time), slavery in Kentucky was a practice more equally and regularly utilized by both wealthy planters and smaller, poorer farmers. This was likely due to the commonality of “secondary crops” (wheat and corn), which were far less labor intensive, resulting in a political economy far less reliant on large plantations and cash crops than the Deep South. Nonetheless, enslaved people constituted about 19.5% of Kentucky’s population in 1860, a fairly significant amount (Adelman and Woodside 2021). As the economy began to diversify, Kentuckians began to rely less on the peculiar institution. Many turned from tobacco and hemp to growing grains and other cereal crops, breeding horses and livestock, and manufacturing (Adelman and Woodside 2021). Despite a fairly large market in slaves being sold “down the river” to the Deep South, the economic reliance on enslaved people began to decline and a debate about slavery’s future grew on the eve of the Civil War.

Kentuckians’ strong affinity for slavery was evident during the immediate antebellum period. During the 1860 election, John Bell, the Constitutional Union candidate who strongly believed in the constitutional protection of the peculiar institution where it existed, ultimately won the state due to the slaveholding strongholds of Louisville, central, and southwestern Kentucky; however, the eastern Appalachian region overwhelmingly supported Democrat John Breckinridge, a native Kentuckian (Marshall 2010). Ironically enough, Lincoln received less than 1% of the vote in his birth state (Marshall 2010). While it appears that support for preservation of the Union was fairly popular in the state, Governor Beriah Magoffin was a southern sympathizer, and many Kentuckians formed a States’ Rights faction following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter (Marshall 2010). Despite his sympathies to the South, Magoffin was a pragmatist, believed sectionalism could be mediated, and wished to avoid a potential invasion of his state if it seceded, thus opposing secession (Adelman and Woodside 2021). As such, he declared neutrality in the war; however, by September 1861, that neutrality was soon broken by a Confederate invasion led by Leonidas Polk to capture the strategic town of Columbus. Less than a week later, Ulysses S. Grant occupied the cities of Paducah and Smithland, bringing a federal military presence to the state as well (Adelman and Woodside 2021). A proslavery faction organized a secessionist government in the west, becoming the twelfth state admitted to the Confederacy (this, however, was short-lived, and this “government” had to flee their capitol in February 1862, “ruling” from an army tent afterwards) (Marshall 2010).

Kentuckians served on both sides of the war, as was true for many of the other border states. As the stereotype of the Civil War goes, families were literally split; for example, three of Henry Clay’s grandsons fought for the Union while four fought for the Confederacy (Marshall 2010). Approximately 66,000-76,000 men served in Federal units while about 25,000-40,000 served with the Confederacy (Marshall 2010). However, of the eligible white Kentuckians, 71% did not fight at all, showing their apparent apathy towards the war writ large (Marshall 2010). Indeed, Lincoln tried to draft white Kentuckians twice to minimal responses; his call for 16,000 troops in July 1864 mustered about 1,500 responding personally, with almost 2,000 finding substitutes (Marshall 2010). In other words, less than a quarter of the number of men encouraged to enlist actually responded to the draft in one way or another, while the rest simply ignored it. This low enlistment rate, however, only applies to white men. Of Kentucky’s able African-American population, about 24,000, or 40%, served in federal forces, contributing more black recruits to the Union war effort than any southern state besides Louisiana (Marshall 2010).

Due to its extraordinarily strategic position along the Mississippi River and as a route into the Confederate states (namely Tennessee), Kentucky was a hotbed of midwestern warfare, primarily in the form of raids and guerilla attacks. The most famous of these raids was the December 1862 Christmas Raid, a two-week period where Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan rode 400 miles through central Kentucky, destroyed 20 miles of railroad and about two million dollars worth of supply, and captured nearly 1900 men as prisoners (Adelman and Woodside 2021). More traditional warfare also occurred in the state, including the January 1862 Battle of Middle Creek, the only battle personally commanded by future President James Garfield and the Battle of Mill Springs, the first significant Union victory of the war about a week later. Most famous, however, is the October 1862 Battle of Perryville, resulting in about 7,000 casualties and 1,400 deaths (Middle Creek National Battlefield, n.d.). This battle, where Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio fought Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi, was a significant Union victory, resulting in Bragg’s withdrawal to Tennessee, ensuring that Kentucky would remain in federal hands for the course of the war (Middle Creek National Battlefield, n.d.).

While politically, Kentucky would remain in Union control after Perryville, anti-federal sentiments remained fairly widespread. In 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside declared martial law over the entire state, angering many citizens (Marshall 2010). Despite Lincoln’s famous sentiments that he could not lose Kentucky, the appointment of generals such as Stephen G. Burbridge, the military commander of Kentucky starting in August 1864, hardened Kentuckians against the Union (Marshall 2010). Abusing Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Burbridge seized property of Confederate sympathizers, executed guerillas, and tried to ban books and interfere in elections, severely weakening Kentuckians’ loyalty to Washington, even after his February 1865 removal from command (Marshall 2010). Indeed, martial law was not lifted until October 1865, revealing the U.S. government’s fears of the still strongly extant pro-Confederate spirit within the state. (Marshall 2010).

Unlike the states of the former Confederacy, Kentucky was not forced into Reconstruction, meaning that formerly enslaved people were not protected by Republican policies. Unlike the other border states, which ultimately became controlled by their Republican factions, Kentucky remained fairly conservative, with a legislature that rejected the 13th Amendment and, when it was ratified, repealed the Act of Expatriation in protest, restoring full constitutional rights to former Confederates (Marshall 2010). With a large base of ex-Confederates, the Democrats quickly regained control in the state, causing a controversy in northern newspapers, who compared these political victories to a military loss of the war (Marshall 2010).

While Democratic power did wane in the later 19th century, the Lost Cause mythology and strong Southern sentiments prevailed well into the 20th century, as seen by the erection and continued display of a statue of Jefferson Davis in the Kentucky Capitol’s Rotunda (until its removal in June 2020). Indeed, while Kentucky’s legislature finally ratified the three Civil Rights Amendments in 1976, noting that the bicentennial year was “an appropriate time to erase the shadow on Kentucky’s history,” the contradictory attitudes of wishing to make amends for their previous actions, on the one hand, and the placement of Jefferson Davis in their capitol, on the other, make for a somewhat paradoxical view of the state’s government (Klotter and Friend 2018).

The Jefferson Davis Statue in the Kentucky Capitol prior to its removal in 2020 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The strong pro-South sentiment in Kentucky was especially obvious around the turn of the 20th century. In 1901, the Lexington chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed photos of Robert E. Lee in every school within the city, and in 1902, the state voted to fund a veteran’s home for former Confederates at Pewee Valley (Klotter and Friend 2018). Conversely, at around the same time, the only support for a monument to Lincoln at his birthplace in Hodgenville came mostly from individuals outside of the state (Klotter and Friend 2018). Additionally, while the Klan itself was not very active, groups calling themselves “Regulators” carried out similar acts of violence in the late 19th century. Between 1873 and 1900, at least 166 lynchings occurred, at least 2/3 of which were perpetrated on black people (Klotter and Friend 2018).

Like many states in the South, people were separated and subjected to unequal treatment on the basis of race. Surprisingly, however, this did not commonly occur within the agricultural profession. In 1900, between 25-33% of all farms were operated by tenants, and of those, only about 8% of all tenant farmers in the state in 1900 were black. In other words, black Kentuckians mostly avoided one of the largest pitfalls of postwar life that so many of their counterparts further south were unable to avoid. (Klotter and Friend 2018). Despite this fact, segregation still was common; for example, electric streetcars in Frankfort forced black people to sit in the back as early as 1890 (Klotter and Friend 2018). In 1892, Kentucky passed a law segregating railroad cars, and municipal policies, such as those passed in Lexington in 1916 and Louisville in 1924, resulted in locations like public parks began becoming even more stringently segregated (Klotter and Friend 2018). Indeed, the quality of segregated schools was quite obvious; in 1880, annual expenditures for black students were about 48 cents per student, compared to $1.45 for white students (Klotter and Friend 2018). While one school, Berea College, was notably racially integrated, in 1904, the state passed a law supported by the superintendent of public instruction (and upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1908 case Berea College v. Kentucky)to “prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school” (Klotter and Friend 2018).

Further into the 20th century, Kentucky, compared to many other Southern states, was fairly progressive regarding Civil Rights. Despite the clear presence of segregation on a statewide level well into the mid-1960s, through the 1940s and 50s, several clear victories were made for equality in formerly segregated localities. For example, in 1956, Louisville public schools were peacefully integrated, two years after the landmark Brown v. Board decision desegregating public education (University of Louisville, n.d.). By May 1963, sit-ins and demonstrations resulted in Louisville adopting a civil rights ordinance effectively ending discrimination in public accommodations, the first such law in the South (University of Louisville, n.d.). In 1965, the Louisville Board of Aldermen banned discrimination in employment, and, in 1967, despite segregationists attacking protestors advocating for equal opportunity in housing, passed a fair housing ordinance (University of Louisville, n.d.).

On a statewide level, in 1965, Governor Edward Breathitt strongly supported Civil Rights legislation mirroring the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act. This bill was passed the following year, banning discrimination in all employment and public accommodations, repealing all “dead-letter” segregation laws, and empowering cities to create local ordinances ensuring fair housing (KET Education, n.d.). Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr. praised this bill as “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state.” (KET Education, n.d.).

Given Kentucky’s uniquely complex relationship with its Confederate past, the state poses many questions about the nature of Confederate monumentation therein. Those advocating for the removal of Confederate monuments argue two main points: First, that these monuments were erected to protect white supremacy and the Lost Cause as well as legitimize Jim Crow laws in the face of calls for racial equality and the long Civil Rights movement, and secondly, that they honor men who committed treason against the United States, such as Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis.

The objective of this report is to examine the basis for these arguments using maps and historical sources. The aim is not to unequivocally answer these controversial questions or make any argument in support or against the monuments, but rather to provide concrete data and historical context to the debate. The first goal of this report is to map when, where, and by whom Confederate monuments were erected in Kentucky from the Reconstruction era to the present (fall 2021). The second goal of this study is to help provide historical context and possible reasons behind some of the Confederate monumentation trends in Kentucky since the end of the war. This study focuses solely on monuments, memorials, and statuary, and omits buildings, roads, or natural features named after Confederate soldiers or statesmen.

It is important to note that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s data used to create these maps was generated through crowdsourced map points, and the exact locations cannot be immediately verified. Furthermore, several Kentucky monuments described by historians in their work are not in the SPLC dataset, and as such, do not appear on the maps (but are mentioned and discussed in this analysis).

Overview of Results

Map 1: Specific Honorees vs. Non-Specific Honorees
Map 2: Kentucky Confederate Monuments, 1880-1899

Compared to other Southern states studied in this project, Kentucky boasts a relatively high proportion of statues erected to specific honorees. Of the 27 statues erected, 9 (33.33%) are dedicated to specific honorees (Map 1). Of these nine monuments, five of them (18.5% of total Confederate monuments in the state) honor Jefferson Davis. Chronologically speaking, this state also has a somewhat unusual pattern. Unlike many other states, which had a surge of monumentation between 1900 and the American entry into World War I, erection rates of Kentucky monuments grew starting in 1910.

 The geographic spread of the monuments put up during this period is equally intriguing. 19th -century monumentation was exclusively in the center of the state around Lexington and Frankfort (Map 2). In the first decade of the 20th century, however, new monuments were mainly erected around Louisville, as well as in the western and southwestern regions of the state (Map 3). During the 1910s period of proliferation, a majority of monuments were erected in the southwestern regions of the state, although another few were erected in Louisville and Lexington, as well as in the city of Danville (Map 4).

Map 3: Kentucky Confederate Monuments, 1900-1909
Map 4: Kentucky Confederate Monuments, 1910-1919

Most of these statues were dedicated between 1910 and 1913, with no new statues erected between 1914 and 1917. However, interestingly enough, three statues were built in 1917, before monumentation ceased once more.

Map 5: Kentucky Confederate Monuments, 1920-1939

The erection of new monuments almost completely ceased in the 1920s, with only one new monument erected in 1929 (Map 5). Monumentation resumed in the early 1930s, when five monuments were erected between 1930 and 1936 (Map 5). No new Confederate monuments have been erected in the state since, according to the SPLC data.

Compared to Confederate monuments, monuments to the Union are far less common in the state. According to historians James Klotter and Craig Thompson Friend (2018), between 1895 and 1925, only three Union monuments went up compared to the 23 Confederate monuments erected in the same time period. Although Unionist monuments are significantly less prevalent across the state, the few that exist are quite interesting indeed. For example, the first Unionist monument in Kentucky, erected in Columbia, honored Frank Wolford, Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Kentucky “Wild Riders” Cavalry, who was an outspoken anti-abolitionist who had been dishonorably discharged for criticizing Lincoln’s decision to enlist black men (Klotter and Friend 2018). This monument shows the conservatism held amongst even white Unionist Kentuckians, indicating a possible desire for reconciliation with their Confederate neighbors and family along shared racial lines. On the other hand, Appalachia, which was overwhelmingly Unionist during the war, held a very different attitude. In 1885, a monument at Vanceburg was dedicated, depicting a federal soldier with the inscription “To communicate the bravery and patriotism of our soldiers who lost their lives in the war for the preservation of national unity… the war for the Union was right, everlastingly right, and the war against the Union was wrong, forever wrong,” seemingly a direct refutation against the Lost Cause mythology which had taken root in other parts of the state—although, interestingly, devoid of any reference to slavery’s role in the war. (Klotter and Friend 2018). Indeed, the difference in monumentation between Appalachia and the western parts of the state show the deep regional differences were that resulted in Kentucky’s division over the subject of the war, and on how Kentuckians chose to remember the war.

Analysis of Results

Much of the debate surrounding Confederate monuments in general tends to focus on whom these statues are memorializing. Arguments center around the ethics and value of honoring men such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and Stonewall Jackson, who committed treason against the US as they tried to form a nation built upon slavery and white supremacy.

While a larger proportion of Kentucky’s statues are dedicated to specific men, an overwhelming majority (66.66%) are still dedicated to the common Confederate soldier. Most of those monuments dedicated to a specific person (55.55%) honor Jefferson Davis, a native Kentuckian and the president of the Confederate States. What is notable, however, is that these five monuments arrived much later, comprising five of the final six monuments erected in the state, with the Davis monuments being dedicated in 1929, 1930, 1935, and 1936. The other four monuments are dedicated to John Breckinridge, John Hunt Morgan, Lloyd Tilghman, and Felix Zollicoffer. While Breckinridge, a native son of Kentucky and the state’s Senator (and later, the final Confederate Secretary of War) and Morgan, the Confederate officer who led the infamous Christmas Raid, are fairly famous figures, the latter two are lesser known. However, their monuments do make sense in the context of the Civil War in Kentucky. Tilghman, a colonel in the 3rd Kentucky Regiment who was later promoted to Brigadier General (he would be killed at Vicksburg), grew up in Paducah, where his statue is located (Martin, n.d.).

Lloyd Tilghman Monument, Paducah, KY (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Felix Zollicoffer, one of the first Confederate Generals to die in battle, fought for Confederate control of Southern Kentucky and was ultimately killed at Mill Springs, near Nancy, Kentucky, where a monument to him was erected (Walden, n.d).

Felix Zollicoffer Monument, Nancy, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The placement of the Davis monuments also make sense, for the most part, in the context of Davis’s life. Two of the five are erected in Fairview, where he was born, and three of the five are markers for the Jefferson Davis Highway, which began in Fairview and continued to his adult home in Beauvoir, Mississippi (although, according to a 1925 document discussing the numbering of Interstate Highways, this route “[extended], by a very circuitous route to New Orleans”) (Weingroff 2017). The final Davis statue was erected in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol, having remained there until 2020, when it was moved to the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site near Fairview (Horn 2020). It is interesting that this monument would be placed within the State Capitol itself, and, indeed, its location demonstrates the strong Lost Cause sentiments throughout the state, which clearly wished to align itself with the defeated South in the postbellum years.

Jefferson Davis Memorial, Fairview, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Geographically speaking, the placement of the monuments also makes reasonable sense. Indeed, a majority of these were erected in areas with higher proportions of enslaved people, and thus, likely had more pro-Confederate sympathizers. Indeed, many of these monuments are located either in large urban environments where slavery was common or in the southwest region, infamously the most pro-secessionist area of the state. For example, during the Civil War, the state capitol of “Confederate Kentucky” was located at Bowling Green. Indeed, the attitude of Bowling Green towards the Confederacy seems to be fairly pro-South even into the late 20th century. A 1989 history of the country written by Dr. Wayne Hoffman, the Director of the Center for Local Government at Western Kentucky University (“written under the auspices of a grant” from the Warren County City-County Planning Commission) extensively discusses the Southern occupation of Bowling Green, calling its “distinction of Confederate capital” a “fleeting honor” (Hoffman 1989). This document also states that “a majority of [Bowling Green] residents” had been “loyal to the Union,” noting that despite this loyalty, “the victorious Federals treated them like foes,” indicating a degree of resentment towards the Union over a hundred and twenty years after the war (Hoffman 1989). With what seems to be a county-sponsored endorsement of Lost Cause propaganda and justification for the area’s hosting of the capitol of “Confederate Kentucky,” it makes sense that a monument to the Confederacy (not listed in the SPLC dataset) was created there fairly soon after the war, in 1876 (Klotter and Friend 2018).

Bas-relief of Henry Mosler’s famous painting, Lost Cause, Confederate Monument in Bowling Green, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Interestingly enough, a notoriously Confederate area absent of any monuments (according to the SPLC data) is Clark County, near the city of Lexington. On July 5, 1865, Confederates in this county planned to throw a celebration commemorating John Hunt Morgan’s July 1863 raid through Kentucky and into Ohio and Indiana; of course, this insult to Independence Day was not met well by the Federal troops who still administered Kentucky under martial law, and this plot was soon overthrown (Marshall 2010). One can imagine that this intrusion only inflamed anti-Unionist sentiments; however, apparently, the county did not build any monuments commemorating any secessionists. While it is possible that the attitudes of the area cooled down over time, it is interesting to note that several nearby counties and municipalities, including the city of Lexington, did erect monuments to the Confederacy, indicating a fairly widespread and enduring pro-Confederate sentiment in this area. Another possibility is that, since there is a monument to John Hunt Morgan in Lexington, the citizens of Clark County believed it to be unimportant to erect one to him themselves since the city is reasonably close (Marshall 2010). More research is required before any conclusions regarding the complex issue of the absence of Confederate monuments in Clark County are made.

Monument to John Hunt Morgan, Lexington, KY (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Like most other states, the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored a majority of Kentucky’s statues (17 of the 27 total, about 63%), about the same proportion of monuments within the state as in Georgia (also about 63%) and Mississippi (about 70%). Chronologically, UDC-sponsored statues occurred fairly consistently through the early 20th century, with the earliest being erected in 1900 and the final ones going up during the 1929-1936 surge of monumentation. Indeed, this final surge of monuments is unusual given the economic conditions of this period; one would think that in the midst of the Great Depression, the UDC would be lacking funds to erect memorials. More research is required into the Kentucky UDC’s finances to fully contextualize the erection of these monuments.

Indeed, the chronology of monumentation is interesting as well. It is unusual that Kentucky’s surge of monumentation only began during the 50th anniversary of the Civil War (which was also concurrent with World War One), and not at the turn of the 20th century, like in many other Southern states. While this might be due to economic reasons, it might also be due to Kentucky’s nature as a border state. In general, the state has significantly fewer monuments than those that officially belonged to the Confederacy. This is likely due to the fact that strong Confederate sentiments in Kentucky are localized to only a few locations, and, once those locations had built their monuments, there was no need to erect more until a special occasion for commemoration, such as the war’s semicentennial, arose. On the other hand, like many other states, the American entry into World War One did result in the erection of several new monuments. This was a cultural initiative fairly typical of the period, where citizens and political entities alike promoted national unity and celebrated a shared martial American past. Interestingly enough, while some states did erect new monuments during the war’s centennial in the 1960s, SPLC’s data does not indicate that Kentucky did. This might be due to the relatively progressive attitude to racial ideas and Civil Rights adopted during the late 1950s and early 1960s, even in formerly strong areas of Confederate sentiment, as seen by the desegregation of Louisville during this period.

However, it appears that Kentucky began erecting monuments far earlier than many other states. While, for unknown reasons, they do not appear in the SPLC data, the Cynthiana Confederate Monument Association erected a white marble obelisk with the Confederate flag, which was quickly followed by several others in Morganfield, Crab Orchard, Taylor County, Pulaski County, and Bowling Green throughout the 1870s (Klotter and Friend 2018). This surge in monumentation needs further investigation but might be due to the fact that Kentucky was not economically devastated like most former Confederate states and thus had funding for monuments. For example, in the 1870s, the Kentucky General Assembly had appropriated $10,000 for a monument to John Breckinridge (while, incidentally, simultaneously voting 23 to 1 against funding the same amount for a monument to a Union veteran), indicating that, unlike many other Southern states, the state of Kentucky seemed to be fairly well off immediately after the war (Marshall 2010).

Breckinridge Memorial, Lexington, KY (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Notably, the 1874 monument in Lexington (also not in SPLC data) was described by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper as “probably the most perfect thing of its kind in the South” (Klotter and Friend 2018). This sculpture, unlike many of the others which were placed in cemeteries and intended to mourn those lost in the war, is a clear indicator of Lost Cause ideology and grief (Klotter and Friend 2018). Indeed, the cross combined with the broken sword symbolizes martyrdom of Southern soldiers at the hands of the Union and clearly compares their deaths to the sacrifice of Jesus.

Lexington Ladies Memorial and Monument Association Confederate Monument, Lexington, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The Lexington Ladies Memorial is not the only one to depict fallen Confederate Kentuckians as martyrs. Indeed, there appears to be a whole series of “martyrs monuments” across the state. These monuments, erected to the “victims” of the Federal troops, honor the guerrillas killed during Burbridge’s military administration of the state (Marshall 2010). A hallmark of Burbridge’s policy was Order no. 59, mandating the execution of four secessionist guerrillas for every Union soldier killed in Kentucky (Marshall 2010). One of the most famous of these “martyrs monuments” is the Confederate Martyrs Monument in Jeffersontown, erected in 1904 and honoring four men executed by Federal forces. Another one, in Eminence (not in the SPLC Dataset), is dedicated to three Confederates executed in retaliation for the deaths of two black Union soldiers (Marshall 2010). This inscription explicitly references the race of the Union dead, indicating that the deaths of these “martyrs” was even more meaningful since they were killed for black men, which to Southern sympathizers, was even more despicable than a death in retaliation for white people (Marshall 2010). While other Confederate monuments memorialize those who fell in battle in the name of the Confederacy, these “martyrs monuments” are unique in that they remember the people who died as a result of Federal war policy, a situation almost exclusively occurring in Kentucky (Marshall 2010). Indeed, these monuments show the increasing resentment of Kentuckians towards the Union over the course of the war and the memory of their harsh treatment under martial law, something which likely increased support for the Confederacy near the end of the war and the postbellum period, and which further propelled the embrace of Lost Cause ideology within the state. It is also possible that the more widespread, rather than individually clustered on large plantation, nature of slavery in Kentucky led to increased hatred toward the federal government in the post-war years when the 13th Amendment stripped even formerly pro-Union slaveholders of their personal property.

Confederate Martyrs Memorial, Jeffersontown, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Back of Confederate Martyrs Memorial, Jeffersontown, KY (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

While, of course, there was an inherent racial connotation to these monuments honoring the soldiers who fought for a slave-based nation, it does not seem like many of the monuments were attempts to exert any truly overt declaration of white supremacy. There is little correlation between the height of Jim Crow and monumentation; monuments seemed to be going up fairly regularly until the surge during the 50th anniversary, whereas, in other Southern states, as hatred towards African-Americans rose in conjunction with post-Reconstruction southern “Redemption” and the institution of Jim Crow laws, there was also a clear surge in monumentation. Indeed, given that no monuments were erected during the period of the Civil Rights era as a backlash to racial equality, it appears that Kentuckians did not seem to erect monuments en masse as a reinforcement of racist policy. This is, of course, not to say that individual monuments did not have racist intent; examination of the language, symbolism, and dedication speeches of statues such as the Lexington Monument discussed earlier make it clear that many of them were indeed created to bolster the Lost Cause. However, full answers to these complex socio-cultural and political questions require more research that is outside the purview of this preliminary report before a definitive conclusion is reached.

Conclusion

Confederate monuments in the state of Kentucky provide an enlightening lens into the mentality of a post-war border state that grew resentful of its treatment at the hands of Federals. Mirroring the split nature of the border states, these statues are, for the most part, located in secessionist areas and areas that held more enslaved people prior to emancipation; indeed, in the eastern part, which had the lowest rate of slaves in the state, there are no Confederate monuments at all. On the other hand, some areas which were fairly pro-Confederate do not have statues, raising several questions about their absence. Indeed, both a chronological and geographic examination of which monuments were erected when and where prompts more research.
While the arguments put forth by individuals on both sides of the Confederate monument debate have merits, many of them overlook the complexities and nuances of Confederate monuments when analyzed by specific location, genre, and origins, as this map and report does with Kentucky. Indeed, the specific context of these individual monuments, their dates of erection, their subject matter, and the full nature of their dedication speeches require reevaluation, or a more complete examination of the individual stories behind these monuments. As these maps show, the context surrounding Confederate monuments in the state of Kentucky is a lot more complex and multi-layered than many have frequently made them out to be.
This research, of course, has its limitations. It does not map schools, buildings, towns, counties, roads, or natural features named after Confederates, all of which are extraordinarily prevalent throughout Kentucky. Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s data used to create these maps was generated through crowdsourced map points, and the exact locations cannot be immediately verified. Furthermore, several monuments do not have dates of dedication or erection, which limits a complete and thorough analysis of the data. Without a thorough examination of the full historical context of each and every monument’s story, such as dedication speeches and events, monument inscriptions, and symbology, final conclusions about the exact historical nature of Confederate monumentation in Kentucky leave many intriguing questions still unanswered. However, these maps and this report seeks to draw attention to the intricacies of monumentation patterns in Kentucky as well as highlight the importance of further research into some of these currently unanswerable questions.

Table 1: Data Sources

NameCreatorDate Valid For DescriptionHyperlink
Kentucky Counties Kentucky State Data Center2021Shapefile representing Kentucky counties. Link
Whose Heritage Master SheetSouthern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)2021Google Sheets dataset containing name, location, date of dedication, and other available information of all Confederate monuments across the United States. Link

 Works Referenced

Adelman, Garry, and Mary Bays Woodside. Updated 2021. “A House Divided: Civil War Kentucky. Hallowed Ground Magazine. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/house-divided-civil-war-kentucky

Hoffman, Wayne. 1989. “The History of Bowling Green and Warren County.” http://www.warrencountyky.gov/docs/history-of-warren-county-kentucky.pdf

Horn, Austin. 2020. “Jefferson Davis Statue Voted Out of Kentucky State Capitol.” NPR News. https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/12/876220211/jefferson-davis-statue-to-be-removed-from-kentucky-state-capitol

KET Education. n.d. “Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” https://education.ket.org/resources/living-story-civil-rights-movement-kentucky/#a-kentucky-civil-rights-timeline

Klotter, James C. and Craig Thompson Friend. 2018. A New History of Kentucky, 2nd Edition. University of Kentucky Press.

Marshall, Anne E. 2010. Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State. University of North Carolina Press.

Martin, McKenzie. n.d. “Gen. Lloyd Tilghman.” ExploreKYHistory. https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/368

Middle Creek National Battlefield, n.d. “Kentucky’s Bloodiest Civil War Battle- Perryville.” https://www.middlecreek.org/kentuckys-bloodiest-civil-war-battle-perryville/

Middle Creek National Battlefield, n.d. “Kentucky’s Role in the Civil War.” https://www.middlecreek.org/kentuckys-role-in-the-civil-war/

University of Louisville. n.d. “The Civil Rights Movement.” https://louisville.edu/freedompark/historical-obelisks/the-civil-rights-movement

Walden, Geoffrey R. n.d. “Death of Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer.” Experience Mill Springs Battlefield. https://www.millsprings.net/index.php/2013-10-01-18-24-22/death-of-gen-felix-k-zollicoffer

Weingroff, Richard F. 2017. “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.” US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Adinistration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/jdavis.cfm

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