Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Kentuckian's World in Upheaval

In the late winter and early spring of 1864, as white enlistment quotas failed in Kentucky and thus the agreement between President Lincoln and the state's governor Thomas E. Bramlette broke down, African American enlistments geared up. That particular development was a shock to many white Kentuckians.

One distraught citizen was George Richard Browder of Logan County. Browder was a slaveholding farmer, circuit-riding Methodist minister, and Southern sympathizer. He kept a journal off and on from 1852 to 1886, and as one might suspect the Civil War years came in for especially close coverage.

On February 18, 1864, Browder wrote that: "Our troubles are increasing in Ky. Congress is determined to enlist negroes among us, not satisfied with inducing them to run away & enlist. Mr. Lincoln calls for a draft of 500,000 more men by 15th of March & we fear the result. Negro soldiers are riding through the country just below us [in Tennessee] seizing other negroes & causing alarm."

On March 9, he continued and hinted at a shift in sentiment among the state's Unionists due to this particular issue: "There is much excitement now in the country about the military interference with negroes. They are being enrolled in our state and the people are not satisfied. Union men are secretly hoping for Southern success."

On March 14, Browder mentioned the upheaval that he likely correlated with black enlistments: "Sensation! Last night Caleb Bells only negro woman & her husband stole her masters mules & uncle Bells wagon & ran away to the Yankees. One of Bro. Petrees & two of Reeves & others. Union men lose more in proportion than rebels of Southern rights men."

It is interesting that Browder makes a distinction between "rebels" and "Southern rights men." He probably considered rebels as either those actually in Confederate military service or their families, and Southern rights men as those that were simply Southern sympathizers such as himself.

On March 15, he wrote that "The negro enrolling has begun here & there is much indignation & excitement." And, on April 20, he mentioned that an enslaved woman belonging to his father named Delilah ran off but was captured in Tennessee and brought back to him. He wrote that "The papers are full of reports of Forrests capturing & killing negro troops," surely referring to the Fort Pillow massacre that occurred about a week before. Browder that day also indicated "There is a decided lull in negro enlistments. They seem more contented. Large numbers are dying at Clarksville [Tennessee].

If the shock of race relations turned upside down was not enough, Browder, on April 23, also reported that guerrilla activity was on the rise. "This robbing is alarmingly on the increase. Bands of soldiers, organized for the protection of the country, steal away from their commands disguised as rebel guerrillas and rob whatever they can. Last night a band of them stole several hundred dollars at Keysburg. When one of them was killed & another caught by citizens, they proved to be federal soldiers from Springfield. The papers are full of accounts of pillage & plunder in many parts of Ky."

Browder was just one of many Kentuckians who recorded personal travails the Civil War caused. All that they had held dear, important, and that made sense proved fleeting in the crucible of the conflict.

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