Monday, March 15, 2010

Kentucky Confederate Provisional Governor Hawes Gives His Take On What the War Was About

Kentucky's role in the Civil War was unique. The state had representatives in the United States congress in Washington, and they had representatives in the Confederate congress in Richmond. They had a star in the United States flag, and they had a star in the Confederate battle flag. And, of course, men from the Bluegrass State fought for both the Union and Confederate armies. Kentucky really did experience a war of brother vs. brother.

Kentucky also had two competing governors. Early in the war Bowling Green was designated as the Confederate capital of Kentucky and George W. Johnson was named governor. Johnson's rule was short lived though as the Confederates were driven out of the state in the spring of 1862. Johnson traveled with the Confederate army on its retreat out of the state and fought as a private in the Battle of Shiloh with fellow Kentuckians where he was killed.

Richard Hawes (pictured above) was selected to replace Johnson, and when Braxton Bragg's Confederate army invaded the commonwealth in the late summer of 1862, the Confederate forces captured the capital at Frankfort and held an inauguration for Hawes. But, Hawes's stay in Frankfort proved very short as the Confederates left the state after the Battle of Perryville.

Recently a colleague at work gave me a copy of Hawes's inauguration speech. I found it extremely interesting. Of particular interest to me was a section of the oration where Hawes described why the war was being fought. He said, "The people were told, the that the Federal Government did not intend to destroy the titles to slave property. It is now a truth and a fact, that the great aims and purposes of this war of subjugation, are the abolition of African slavery."

He continued in this same vein, "Let us then forget if we care, the past minor issues and plant ourselves on the one side or the other of this Abolition war. I have lived in your midst from my boyhood to the age of seventy-five [actually sixty-five] years, and I have utterly misconceived the characters and souls of Kentuckians if they hesitate as to the side they will take in this Abolition war."

Hawes then outlined his feelings on slavery, the destruction that emancipation would bring, and the sacrifices needed to win the war. "You know, fellow citizens, what African slavery is. You know that emancipation would be the most unmitigated curse which could be inflicted upon the slave race. You know that the abolition of slavery would crush and desolate the planting States. You know that a war of subjugation, to be successful, must be ruthlessly borne over the dead bodies of millions of the most chivalrous devotees of liberty, who are the bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh."

The Confederate governor concluded this part of his speech on the subject of slavery by stating, "I assume the duties devolved on me as Provisional Governor, to give you and opportunity to take your stand and make your choice in this Abolition war, and to decide fully and fairly whether you will cast your destiny with the North or the South."

Bragg had entered Kentucky with wagon loads of rifles to give to the flocking Kentuckians that he was told would enlist if he would only make a stand for the state. Kentuckians never come to the Confederate standard as expected and Bragg left the state following the terrible Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862. Hawes would leave the state with Bragg, but his hopes and efforts for another major Kentucky campaign lasted until the end of the war.

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