Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 2

As I hoped and expected, day two of our bus trip has been just as educational and enjoyable as day one. We started off the day with wonderfully big breakfast at the French Quarter Inn in Maysville, Kentucky, and then headed off down river to Fort Wright. Fort Wright was one of over twenty forts and artillery batteries that defended the city of Cincinnati south of the Ohio River during the Civil War.

In Fort Wright a relatively new museum - the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum (pictured above)- is in operation that interprets the role of northern Kentucky in the war. The museum is in a former 1940s home that was built on what was during the war Battery Hooper. The battery was named for a wealthy Cincinnati businessman who provided funds to help construct the defensive works there. The original earthworks are being uncovered in archaeological digs that the site hosts.

During the Confederate offensive into Kentucky in the late summer of 1862, Confederate forces under E. Kirby Smith made it as close to Cincinnati as Fort Mitchel(l), where there was a small skirmish before determining the defenses of the city were too strong and retreated. During the scare, a large number of free blacks from Cincinnati were brought over to the Kentucky defenses to provide additional manual labor. General Lew Wallace named them the Black Brigade, and although they didn't fight with rifles and artillery, their efforts did help keep Cincinnati in Union hands. Many of the Black Brigade joined United States Colored Troops units when African Americans were finally allowed to enlist in large numbers in 1863. A number of these men joined the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry, and one member, Powhatan Beaty, who later joined the 5th USCT, won the Medal of Honor at Chaffin's Farm (or New Market Heights, Virginia) in September 1864.

Our next stop was at the Dinsmore Homestead, just outside of Burlington, Kentucky, in Boone County. The home (pictured above) and farm was bought by James Dinsmore, a transplanted cotton and sugar planter from Louisiana who moved there in 1842. Dinsmore ran a diversified farm that grew wheat, corn, barley, hay, and potatoes, along with a number of other crops and livestock.

To provide most of the labor on the farm Dinsmore brought eleven slaves from Louisiana. Dinsmore also employed a number of German immigrant tenant farmers. After Dinsmore died in 1872, his daughter Julia (born in 1833, died in 1926) managed the farm for over 50 years. Julia never married, but kept a detailed journal that she wrote in almost every day from the 1870s to the 1920s. The staff is currently working on transcribing the journal but have only made it into the late 1800s so far. On the property is also the family cemetery, a winery, the original cabin kitchen, and a number of other outbuildings. Everything in the house is from the Dinsmore family as the house was passed to nieces after Julia died and had always remained in the family until it became a historic home museum. I especially liked the very numerous books that made up the family's eclectic library.

An interesting family story is that of "Aunt" Nancy McGruder who was born about 1810 and died in 1906. She was purchased by James Dinsmore in the 1820s after having previously been a slave of the Minor family in Natchez, Mississippi, and was brought to Kentucky when Dinsmore moved there in the 1840s. She ran away to nearby Ohio in September of 1865, before the 13th Amendment went into effect, but returned to the Dinsmore family in 1878 when she could no longer make a living to support herself. She lived with the Dinsmore's until her death.

The final stop of the day was to the Louisville riverfront to view the recently erected Lincoln statue, and hear a talk from the sculptor, Louisville native Ed Hamilton. The piece (pictured above) is very impressive and is meant to be from the time he visited his friend Joshua Speed in 1841. Lincoln had met the Kentuckian Speed in Springfield and the two became fast friends for a number of years. Speed moved back to Kentucky to run the family hemp plantation, Farmington, and Lincoln visited after a beak up with Mary Todd. The Speeds helped console Lincoln and provided encouragement and moral support, during what Lincoln said was one of the worst periods of his life.

Along with the statue of Lincoln are four granite blocks that feature bas relief impressions of three periods in Lincoln's life; when he was a youngster eager to read and learn; as a young man and visitor to Lexington; and as president - attempting to keep the country together and comforting Mary whose family largely supported the Confederacy. The final block is depicts a coffle of slaves, as Lincoln commented on seeing such a group on his travel back to Illinois after leaving Louisville on a steamboat.

If you get a chance to visit any of these sites I highly encourage you to do so. All of these places offer opportunities to learn about our history and remember the terrible struggles our nation has had to endure and overcome.

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