Thursday, February 28, 2013

General William Orlando Butler

Housed in the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society are two swords that were given to General William O. Butler for his meritorious service in the Mexican War.

Butler was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky in 1791, and he attended Transylvania University in Lexington, where he graduated in 1812. When the War of 1812 broke out Butler enlisted as a private and was captured at the Battle of River Raisin. He was eventually exchanged, promoted to captain and participated in the Battle of New Orleans where he was promoted again, this time to major.

Butler remained in the army until 1817, when he resigned and settled in Carroll County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River to continue his law career and try politics. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1839 to 1843, and was nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor, but lost to Whig William Owsley.

In the Mexican War, where Butler earned military fame, he was made a major general of volunteers and served with General Zachary Taylor's invading force. At the Battle of Monterrey, Butler was only second in command to Taylor and was wounded in the fierce fighting. He was presented the above sword by the state of Kentucky for his actions in the battle. The state also honored Gen. Taylor and Major Philip Barbour with swords. 

Butler's service in Mexico certainly was not finished at Monterrey. When Gen. Winfield Scott left Mexico in 1848, Butler was placed in command of the remaining United States forces and then oversaw the evacuation of the occupying army when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, which officially ended the war.

Upon return home, Butler was again honored, but this time by the United States Congress, who presented him with a beautiful gold sword (pictured above) for his bold and aggressive action in the street fighting at Monterrey.

Much like the Whigs, who nominated Gen. Taylor for president in 1848, Butler was nominated by the Democrats to run as the vice presidential candidate with Michigan's Lewis Cass. Of course, Taylor and Milliard Fillmore won, and Butler returned to Kentucky.  He was offered the territorial governor position for the Nebraska Territory in 1855, but declined. Butler passed away at his Carroll County home in 1880 at age 89.

Today, General Butler State Park in Carroll County preserves the Butler home built in 1859.

Sword photos courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.
1848 campaign image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Voter

One of the great things about our form of government is that it allows us to speak our minds and print our thoughts. Fortunately, many of those opinions have survived in letters, journals, diaries, and newspapers. The February 5, 1848 edition of The Illinois Gazette printed a letter to the editor that expressed "a voter's" thoughts on African Americans. It is these expressed ideas that give us insight into the nineteenth century world. They are the evidence of how people believed society should be. People's beliefs in the past may shock or surprise us today, but it is important to know and understand them still.

After opening with his favorable opinions on the new Illinois state constitution, the writer quickly switched to a discussion on  African Americans and how they related to the new document.

"There are two separate clauses upon which a vote is to be taken, and two, by the by, which I consider most wholesome in the whole constitution: one in regard to the two mill tax, which every honest man will surely go for, who wishes to see the State be made free from the onerous debt we are laboring under; the other is in relation to the admission of Negroes into the State. Upon this I am aware that a difference of opinion exists, and I am extremely sorry for it. A very large portion of the State is separated from slaveholding States only by a river. Now, sir, if we allow free negroes to come amongst us, we shall be overrun by a population the most abominable. Are not the abolitionists continually distracting themselves and the whole country in mad fanaticism and rage for negroes? Yes, sir, allow free negroes to make a part of our population and we are cursed at once with a black and miserable set. Our state lies too contiguous to vast bodies of negroes not to be overrun by them. And you are aware that jealousy already exists between the people of Missouri and Kentucky, with us of Illinois, on the subject of their slaves. Let us engraft in our constitution this clause forbidding negroes from coming into our good State, and our sister States will see that we do not encourage the abominable practice of interfering with their slaves. I trust that no honest and true republican will be found voting a free negro curse upon us.

Now, as to the abstract subject of slavery, we have nothing to do with it, and I consider it a great blessing that the good commonwealth of Illinois is free from so bitter a curse as it is. The election is near at hand, and I think the people would do well to consider and come up to the polls and give our new constitution a large vote, and see if it does not prove wholesome and good.

A Voter."

Too often people only see the "black and white" (no pun intended) of mid-nineteenth century America. They assume that all Southerners were racist and for slavery, while all Northerners were abolitionists that desired an egalitarian society. The reality of it though - as this primary source shows - is that there was lots of "gray." Most Northerners did not want slavery in their society, but they certainly did not want African Americans living among them either. Racism was rampant all across nineteenth century America, and although it justified slavery in the minds of some, it also justified social exclusion in the minds of others.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Captain Theron E. Hall

I am finding more and more that Facebook is a wonderful place to "get history." Depending on the people, historic sites, organizations or blogs that one happens to "Like" or "friend," lots can be learned.  For example, today I came across a picture of Captain Theron E. Hall on one of The American Civil War's posts. It was an image I had never seen before, although it is in the collections of the Library of Congress (LOC). If you follow my blog posts, you know that I use images from the LOC often. Somehow, through all of my searching on their website I never stumbled across this one.

This image of Quartermaster Hall was taken at Acquia Creek, Virginia, in April 1863. Capt. Hall was later transferred to Camp Nelson, Kentucky, where he also served as that base's quartermaster. Although a Massachusetts abolitionist, Hall had had an up and down relationship the the African American soldiers, their refugee families, and minister John G. Fee (who worked ministering, educating, and caring for the soldiers and the families), it was Hall who brought attention to the expulsion of refugees on a cold November day in 1864.

Immediately after that chilling forced exodus Hall wrote to Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade and asked that he share the contents of the letter and a USCT soldier's affidavit describing how his family had suffered due to the expulsion with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Hall also sent the affidavit to the New York Tribune, who published it. News of the tragic event spread rapidly across the North and eventually bore fruit by shaping legislation that was passed in March 1865 that freed the family members of soldiers that enlisted in the USCT.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nathan Jones, Camp Metcalf, Va.

Unfortunately, not much information accompanies this photograph. It is only labeled, Nathan Jones, Camp Metcalf, V[irgini]a.

This young man was most likely a runaway to a Union encampment and probably became a camp servant. He is shown with a Union soldier's forage cap, US military belt and buckle, and possibly army shoes and trousers. The photographer's rest (intended to keep their subjects from moving) is barley visible between the youngster's feet.

I have never heard of a Camp Metcalf in Virginia, and an internet search did not reveal much information other than a Camp Metcalf in northern Virginia, apparently near Fairfax and Alexandria, which was part of the Washington D.C. defenses.  The selection I found was from a soldier in the 11th Rhode Island:

"The present camp is in a filthy condition, and a shame to those who have charge of it. The camp was originally located about two miles nearer Alexandria, in the region of what was called the Distribution Camp. When we took possession of Camp Metcalf they were located in the Green Valley. What was filthy before we went there, by the middle of February had become clean, and a very different affair from what it was when the government established it. It was under entirely different regulation. It grew rapidly from a small number to a moderate sized army, and what had been confusion soon became order and system."

It will never be known exactly how many young men like Nathan Jones came into the Union lines in the first years of the war, but the services they provided to its soldiers - and the fact that many later joined USCT units - helped preserve the Union and end slavery.

If any readers have more information on Camp Metcalf or where I can find more information, I would appreciate hearing it.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Contrabands Escaping

In this drawing by Edwin Forbes, titled "Contrabands Escaping" and done on May 29, 1864, at Hanover, Virginia, shows a group of 10 slaves fleeing on foot and in a one-horse cart. One man, out front and with a large gunny sack over his shoulder, leads the party. A lop-eared mule pulls the cart on which a woman holding a parasol and two children sit on a bundle of goods. A pipe-smoking woman walks beside the cart with a youngster on her shoulder, while a boy walks in front of her. Bringing up the rear looks to be three more mature men, at least two of which lean forward under the weight of heavy bags.

One has to wonder if the group "inherited" the mule,cart, and possessions from masters who had fled the approach of the Union army. If so, surely they believed that they deserved such material goods from their owners for years of unpaid labor.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Question Settled, 1865

In this satire image, a dominant white cat labeled "Old Abe" nudges out a cowed gray cat, "Jefferson Davis," while a opportunistic black cat, "Contraband," attempts to get his paw in the pan, which sits atop a map of the Southern states and a United States flag.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Anderson County's Mexican War Monument

On the Anderson County courthouse lawn in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, stands a monument to the Salt River Tigers and their killed and wounded in the Battle of Buena Vista on February 22-23, 1847. The original monument was erected in 1847, but apparently the engraved words weathered away and were replaced with new inscriptions in 1997 by a local Sons of Confederate Veteran group.

The Salt River Tigers were Company C of the 2nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. Their Colonel was William Robertson McKee, who's monument in Midway, Kentucky, I highlighted a couple of weeks ago. The 2nd Kentucky's lieutenant colonel was none other than Henry Clay, Jr. The 2nd Kentucky's only major battle was at Buena Vista, but there it made a name for itself.

According to author Berry Craig, in his book Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers, the original inscription had become so weathered that it could no longer be read. The patriotic message that is engraved (shown below) was selected to replace it. However, soon after the the new phrase went up on the refurbished monument a note was found with the original inscription. It read:

They are gone -
Fathers and Mothers and Friends
may weep for them and yet be proud
that the terrors of the battlefield neither
sully their honor or patriotism

This side of the monument also lists the name of those members of the Tigers that were wounded at Buena Vista.

Those Salt River Tiger soldiers that died during the war, probably from disease are listed below.

The monument honors the Tigers's commander, Captain John H. McBrayer, and lists the names of the unit's killed at Buena Vista.

Interestingly, Hidden History of Kentucky's Soldiers also mentions that the "cannon ball" atop the monument is not actually a cannon ball at all. Author Craig explains that John Trowbridge, command historian for the Kentucky National Guard, told Craig that at some point the original cannon ball had been stolen and that the then curator of the Kentucky Military History Museum gave Trowbridge a ball that was used in coal mines to break up coal chunks (but looks like a cannon ball) as a replacement.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jo Shelby on "Bleeding Kansas"

Joseph "Jo" O. Shelby was born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1830, and was educated at Transylvania University. As a young man he ran a hemp rope manufactory and moved to Missouri in 1852. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed two years later, Shelby found himself caught up in the "Bleeding Kansas" battles.

As an old man he related his experience in those dire days of discord. Giving his story to a Kansas historian he related:

"I was in Kansas at the head of an armed force about that time. I went there to kill Free State men. I did kill them. I am now ashamed of myself for having done so, but then times were different from what they are now, and that is what I went there for. We Missourians all went there for that purpose if it should be found necessary to carry out our designs. I had no business there. No Missourian had any business there with arms in his hands. The policy that sent us there was damnable and the trouble we started there on the border bore fruit for ten years. I ought to have been shot there and John Brown was the only man who knew it and would have done it. I say John Brown was right. He did in his country what I would have done in mine in like circumstances. Those were the days when slavery was in the balance and the violence engendered made men irresponsible. I now see I was so myself."

Shelby fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, doing battle in the Trans-Mississippi theater, rising in rank from captain to general. Instead of surrendering at the end of the war, Shelby took his force to Mexico, where he stayed until 1867. Upon returning to Missouri he took up farming again and died in 1897.

Shelby quote from General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel by Daniel O'Flaherty, page 44.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Old Rough and Ready"

Zachary Taylor, Mexican War hero and 12th president of the United States, is shown in this highly romantic Whig campaign poster for the 1848 election in which he defeated Democrat Lewis Cass of Michigan.

"Old Rough and Ready," gentleman politician, is shown here surrounded by his Mexican War victories festooned on banners encircling the pillars supporting "justice" and "peace." A sunburst with descending dove is shown above him and under United States flags. Taylor is mounted on his favorite horse "Old Whitey" and at the steed's feet is a fascine bundle, wrapped and labeled "Union."

Born in Virginia in 1784, but coming to Kentucky with his family as an infant, Taylor joined the army as a young man and fought in the War of 1812 and Seminole War.  His great fame was won in Mexico though battles such as Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Monterrey, and Buena Vista.

The quintessential Whig, Henry Clay, did not receive the party's nomination in 1848 as he had lost the 1844 election to Democrat James K. Polk and was viewed as unable to attain the presidency after other several past failed attempts.

Taylor, like Whig William Henry Harrison in 1840, would not survive his term as president. He died on July 9, 1850. Vice President Millard Fillmore followed after Taylor's death and was then defeated in 1852 by Vermont Democrat Franklin Pierce.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Mexican War Image

The soldier pictured above has what might be one of the most unique nineteenth century first names I have come across - and I have seen some strange ones. 

According to information I was able to find online, Bazaleel Wells Armstrong was born in 1823 in Ohio and served as was a lieutenant in 2nd Regiment Dragoons in the Mexican War. Apparently his father was General John Armstrong and his mother was Isabella McKaig Armstrong. It also appears that Armstrong survived combat, but according to a printed notice in the Lima [Ohio] Argus he died in New Lisbon, Ohio, on February 17, 1849, at 26 years old. 

Was his death due to wounds received in the war? Or, was it from a tropical disease he contracted in Mexico? Did he commit suicide, or was he murdered? Was he in an accident?

Mexican War photographs like this are rather rare as the science of making daguerreotype images was only about a decade old when the war broke out.  

Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Apostles of Equality

I was thrilled to see a book finally come out that covered the remarkable career of James G. Birney. Birney's evolution from slaveholder to colonization proponent to emancipationist to abolitionist is one of the amazing stories of the nineteenth century and one that has been overlooked for too long in scholarship.

D. Laurence Rogers, a journalist and Michigan historian, tells Birney's biography - and with it America's story.  He shows that both transformed from being proslavery to opposing the institution. As we all know, that evolution was one that was full of obstacles and pitfalls; much like Birney's life.

Birney was born in Danville, Kentucky, in 1792 and grew up in slaveholding household. His father owned a profitable hemp plantation that provided Birney the opportunity to have an excellent education at Transylvania University and later Princeton.

After Princeton, Birney returned to Danville and practiced law, then like so many others of that era, went into politics. He landed a seat in the Kentucky legislature at 24. In 1818 though he moved his family to a cotton plantation in Madison County, Alabama. Birney's career as planter was short lived and he soon went back to life as an attorney, practicing in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was also elected mayor, and served the Alabama legislature.

While in Alabama, Birney became convinced that colonization was the best alternative to dealing with the growing slavery controversy that was troubling the country. Birney decided to move back to Danville in 1832. Back in Kentucky he transformed from colonizationist to gradual emancipationist. Still unconvinced with the progress of emancipation he freed his remaining slaves in 1834 and declared himself an abolitionist. Efforts to start an antislavery newspaper in Kentucky in 1835 was thwarted though and Birney moved Cincinnati, Ohio. He moved yet again, this time to New York in 1837 to work for the American Antislavery Society.

In 1840 Birney ran for president on the antislavery Liberty Party ballot. He ran again in 1844 and has gone down in history as costing Henry Clay the vital votes he needed, and thus lost to James K. Polk. Birney, seemingly ever on the move, transplanted again in 1847 to Michigan. He remained in Michigan until 1855 when he moved to New Jersey where he died in 1857.

Rogers contends, and I agree, that Birney's politics and his run for president as Liberty Party candidate paved the way for the later Free Soil Party. And the Free Soil Party saw the later emergence of the Republican Party, which originated in 1854 as party against slavery's expansion.

While I truly enjoyed reading Apostles of Equality I was discouraged to find so many factual errors included throughout the book. Early (page 33) Rogers seemed to get confused about Humphrey Marshall (1760-1841) who fought a duel with Henry Clay in 1809 with Marshall's grandson, also Humphrey (1812-1872), who became a Confederate general in the Civil War. How Rogers could have thought that someone old enough to fight a duel in 1809 could have still fought 50 years later in the Civil War is difficult for me to understand.  And that certainly was not the only error. On page 39 he states that the Liberator newspaper began publishing in 1830, William Lloyd Garrison's paper actually started the next year, 1831. On the same page he claims that the Denmark Vesey conspiracy happened in 1821, it was 1822.  On page 179 he claims that John Wilkes Booth was captured and killed in Maryland, but that actually happened in Caroline County, Virginia. On page 189, Rogers states that John Brown dedicated himself to antislavery at the funeral of Elijah Lovejoy in 1836.  Lovejoy was actually killed in 1837 and while John Brown did dedicate himself to the elimination of slavery upon the occasion of Lovejoy's death, Brown was not in attendance at Lovejoy's actual funeral. On page 199 the author claimed that Preston Brooks, the famous caner of Charles Sumner hailed from Georgia; he was from South Carolina. All of these mistakes are fairly minor and probably would be overlooked by most readers, but to those of us who know better these errors make one wonder if there are others that I missed and thus causes the book to lose some credibility in my eyes.

Apostles of Equality doesn't end with James G. Birney's life. Thankfully Rogers also covers the careers of Birney's sons, four of which (and a grandson) served in the Union army. Two of his sons carried on their father's abolitionist mission by commanding United States Colored Troops.

I would rate Apostles of Equality higher if those errors I mentioned above had been caught by proofreaders or the publishing editor.  However, it is still an enjoyable book on a too-long ignored personality that needed covered. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Old '76 and Young '48

A few posts ago I shared Richard Caton Woodville's News from Mexico. Above is Woodville's Old '76 and Young '48, which depicts a scene from the same era, albeit in a more intimate atmosphere.

Woodville chose a setting that is likely in a Southern household parlor. "Young '48" tells about his adventures in the war and seemingly motions toward the Revolutionary War portrait on the wall with the right arm while his left arm is in a sling, presumably a wound from the Mexican War. The soldier's military cap, gauntlets and sword are on the carpeted floor behind him. "Old '76", probably Young '48's grandfather, listens to the young man tell his tale and appears to be lost in thought, possibly remembering his combat experiences in the Revolutionary War.  Behind the old man and up high is bust of George Washington and above the fireplace mantle is a portrait of John Trumbull's Signing of the Declaration of Independence.

All of the individuals - possibly Young 48's mother, father, and sister - appear to be concentrating on the young man's words, which seem to be serious. At the door appears to be a group of house slaves intent on hearing what is being told, too.  The family dog, in the foreground, appears to be as attentive as the depicted humans.

Woodville's short life appears to be - like the war that was the basis of these paintings - a tragedy. Born in 1825 to a prominent Baltimore, Maryland family, he died in London at age 30 from a morphine overdose.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rial, a Slave Belonging to W.B. Galaway

Sunday night while watching the Super Bowl I got bored when the Superdome lights went out, so I started searching through some Kentucky Civil War era newspapers.

In the February 9, 1864 issue of the Frankfort Daily Commonwealth I ran across a classified advertisement that caught my attention. It stated:

"Proclamation by the Governor, $100 Reward
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Executive Department

Whereas it has been made known to me that RIAL, a slave belonging to W. B. Galaway, of Scott County, did in the - day of 186-, murder Jeremiah Martin, of said county, and is now going at large.

Now, therefore I, Thos. E. Bramlette, Governor of the Commonwealth aforesaid, do hereby offer a reward of ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, for the apprehension of said Rial, property of said W. B. Galaway, and his delivery to the jailer of Scott County, within one year from the date hereof:

In testimony Whereof, I have hereon to set my hand, and caused the seal to be affixed. Done at Frankfort, this 27th day of Jan. A.D. 1864 and in the 72 year of the Commonwealth.
By the Governor Tho. E. Bramlette
E.L. VanWinkle, Secretary of State
Jas. R. Page, Assistant Secretary

Description - The Rial is about 45 years old. 5 feet 8 inches high, rather small, black, with the front lower fore tooth out, speaks slow and low, and has humble appearance."

Naturally, curiosity got the best of me, so I located some information on W.B. Galloway (not Galaway). In the 1850 census he is listed as the owner of 12 slaves (8 males and 4 females, all between the ages of 50 and 1 year old). In the 1860 census Galloway owned 9 slaves (5 females and 4 males, between the ages of 50 and 11). Also in 1860 he had $26,000 in real estate and $11,600 in personal property, most of which would have been the 9 slaves.  He was a 37 year old bachelor farmer and 6 people lived in his household.  Apparently he boarded his two aunts Miriam and Thircissmus McCalla, 50 and 45 respectively.  In the household too was Margaret Davis, white and 22 years old (who in the 1870 census was still in the household and listed as servant).  Included too were S. Q. Adams, a 29 year old physician, and J. W. Bower, a 22 year old merchant.

I also found a Civil War Draft Registrations record for 1863-1865 where Galloway was listed as a 40 year old single farmer and had a note, "Hand Crippled."

I was unable to find any 1860 census record information for the murdered Jeremiah Martin in Scott County, which made me wonder if Jeremiah Martin was a slave too, thus he would not have appeared in the census. But, if he was a slave wouldn't the notice had indicated such? I'm not sure.

Anyway, my curiosity has not been sated. In fact I am even more curious to find out what happened to Rial (was he caught? was there a trial? was he punished or executed? or did he continue to "go at large"?). And who this Jeremiah Martin? I suppose a trip over to neighboring Scott County is in order in the near future.

Governor Thomas E. Bramlette image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

Monday, February 4, 2013

Just Finished Reading - The House on Diamond Hill

Too often overlooked in Southern history is the fact that some American Indians owned slaves. A few elites, like the focus of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, the Vann family, owned large numbers of enslaved workers and to a large degree mirrored white Southern antebellum plantation life.

James Vann, the son of a white trader father and Cherokee mother inherited a great deal of wealth and capitalized on a number of opportunities that helped increase his fortune in land and slaves at the turn of the nineteenth century. Vann lived a profligate lifestyle at Diamond Hill. He abused his wives, drank to excess, and was even accursed by his neighbors of being mentally imbalanced. Vann was gunned down in 1809 by an unknown assailant as he drank at a local tavern. Having many enemies, his killer was never identified.

James Vann's son Joseph inherited much of Diamond Hill and its slave workforce. Joseph turned out to be much more responsible than his father and kept the plantation profitable. In the early 1820s, Joseph Vann had a beautiful brick Federal-style house built that showed off his wealth and high standing in the Cherokee nation. Unfortunately, Joseph Vann's enjoyment of the house would be short lived. He and other Cherokees were removed from Georgia and settled in what would become Oklahoma. Vann, however, was much better off than the majority of his fellow Cheokees. His wealth insulated him from the harsh realities of relocation that the "Trail of Tears" afforded to others. Vann became one of the richest Cherokees in Oklahoma, taking his slaves with him and purchasing a steamboat named the Lucy Walker. Vann's destiny was tied to the Lucy Walker more than he knew when he made the purchase. He and an number of the boat's passengers died in a boiler explosion on the Ohio River near New Albany, Indiana in 1844.

While the Vann family stories are certainly interesting  much of the book focuses on the enslaved workers at Diamond Hill, especially the women. Thanks to the Moravian mission, Springplace, and the copious notes that they kept on their Vann neighbors, we have an idea of what life was like on this elite Cheorkee plantation. As author Tiya Miles explains, "Diamond Hill was a place where the slave population was large enough to sustain a black community and where the dominant Indian culture held features in common with African societies. Enslaved people in this location were therefore able to develop a unique black lifeworld rooted in memories of Africa, adapted to a new indigenous American context, and insulated from the intense acculturative pressures of the white slaveholding South." Indeed, many of the slaves at Diamond Hill spoke Cherokee and English, and some - who had interaction with the Moravians - even spoke bits of German. It was truly a multicultural world away tucked in the Cherokee nation.

In The House on Diamond Hill Miles also provides a history of efforts of the area's residents to preserve and interpret the Chief Vann House, which is now administered by the state of Georgia. The story of Diamond Hill for too long only covered the Cherokee and Moravian story, but now the full history of this unique Southern plantation is told by incorporating the African American and Afro-Cherokee slaves that provided the Vanns with much of their wealth and comfort.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The House on Diamond Hill a 4.75. I think anyone interested in Southern history will enjoy this fantastic book and its unique topic.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Midway's McKee Monument

As you might have noticed by some of my recent posts, I have developed somewhat of an interest in Kentucky's role in the Mexican-American War. I first noticed the Col. William McKee monument in Midway, Kentucky last summer when I took some photos of the Martyr's Monument. I didn't pay much attention to the McKee monument then other than noting it was placed in honor of a Mexican War veteran. 

Today, suffering somewhat from cabin fever, I took the short drive over to Midway and took some snapshots of the monument to share here.

If you have never been to Midway, you are missing out on a true gem.  Midway is a charming little Woodford County town midway (thus the name) between Lexington and Frankfort on the line of the Lexington and Ohio railroad. As the railroad neared completed in the 1830 the town developed.

The McKee monument was erected in 1847 to honor William Robertson McKee, colonel of the 2nd Kentucky Volunteers (the regiment's lieutenant colonel was Henry Clay, Jr.). Both Clay and McKee were killed at the Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847. Engraved on one side of the monument is the following very mid-nineteenth century sentiment:

"This humble monument is graciously erected by the citizens of Midway and vicinity as an abiding memorial of their admiration of the pure and noble character and useful service, civil and military, of the accomplished gallant and much lamented COL. WILLm R. McKEE who in triumphantly defending his country's flag at the head of the immortal 2nd REGIMENT of KENTUCKY VOLUNTEERS fell gloriously in the last moment of the memorable battle of BUENA VISTA in which that regiment with its able and heroic leader, by unsurpassed skill and persevering valor, in a bloody conflict of an entire day, emblazoned the exalted character of their beloved Commonwealth, and achieved for themselves DEATHLESS HONOR AND RENOWN.  

William Robertson McKee graduated from the United States Military Academy (West Point) in the class of 1829, which also featured such notables as Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston.  His father Samuel McKee (1774-1826) was a Kentucky politician that served in both the state and United States House of Representatives. McKee was buried along with Henry Clay, Jr. in the Frankfort Cemetery. Both soldiers rest below the Kentucky Military Monument, which was authorized in 1848 by the state legislature and completed in 1850.

Also engraved on the monument is an oval that contains the symbol of the Union; a bald eagle holding arrows and an olive branch, with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM - out of many one. Also included in the engraving is a plow (peace), a cannon (war), and American flag (Union).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Death of Henry Clay, Jr. in Mexico

Although his father, Henry Clay - the Great Compromiser - vehemently opposed the United States' military action with Mexico, Henry Clay Junior proudly enlisted and served as Lieutenant Colonel in the 2nd Kentucky Infantry.

Junior, the most promising of Clay's sons to attempt to follow in the patriarch's huge shoes, graduated second in his West Point class in the early 1830s.  After his education he practiced law and served a term in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Surely, the thought of gaining some glory and notoriety in the war must have enter the mind of Clay the younger who had once written in his diary: "How difficult it is for a young tree to grow in the shade of an aged oak."

Junior's Mexican War experience got off to fits and starts. He lost much of his early war fever when he was injured after a fall from his horse. Clay was also disillusioned with his overbearing superiors. But then in what was arguably one of the most important battles of the war, Buena Vista, on February 23, 1847, Junior was wounded in the left thigh (pictured above). He requested that his men leave him and fall back to regroup. As the wounded Clay watched his men leave he was pierced multiple times by the feared Mexican lancers. Before sending his men away, Clay entrusted to a subordinate officer a set of pistols that his father had provided him and requested they be brought back to his father in Kentucky.  

Interestingly, Clay's body was retrieved by two Kentucky slaves that worked as manservants for the 2nd Kentucky. As historian Amy Greenberg relates in her recently published A Wicked War, "Joel, an enslaved body servant and son of a prominent Lexington barber well known to the Clay family, was himself injured in the process."

Not only did the pistols come back to Kentucky, the body of Henry Clay Jr., too, was returned to his native state and was eventually placed in the Frankfort Cemetery.