Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Kentucky Military Institute and John Brown's Raid

When I began my research project on Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid, I wondered if there were any connections (however remote) between the Kentucky Military Institute and the state's responses to the raid. I suppose this came to mind due to the noted role that the Virginia Military Institute played in Brown's execution. The Virginia cadets were used as guards at that event on December 2, 1859 in Charlestown, Virginia, and were accompanied by Professor and Major Thomas Jonathan Jackson, later to be known as "Stonewall." In addition, Virginian and arch-secessionist, Edmund Ruffin, borrowed an overcoat from the cadets in order to observe the hanging in person, as civilians were not supposed to be in attendance.

I was pleased to recently find that my hunches were correct; indeed KMI did have connections in response to the raid. In the Friday, January 20, 1860 edition of the Lexington Kentucky Statesman newspaper an article ran under the title of "Citizen Soldiery." In the immediate aftermath of Harpers Ferry, Kentucky newspaper editors vehemently called for a reorganization of the state's militia system, which was also later demanded by Governor Magoffin. A new state militia system, the Kentucky State Guard, finally took effect by order of the state legislature in March 1860. But, in the weeks after Brown's execution the demand was still being made to secure the safety of Kentucky's citizens.
In the "Citizen Soldiery" article the Kentucky Statesman editor called attention to a recent submission to the Frankfort Yeoman newspaper that praised KMI, which was located near the capital city. The editor explained that, there was an "importance of establishing our State militia upon a war footing, defensive if not offensive." He went on to state that, "Ours is a border State, and whenever the conflict comes, we must stand the brunt of the battle....Geography has assigned Kentucky her position, and her people will accept it in no craven spirit; and our legislators should not leave it to a late posterity to reproach them with being unfaithful guardians upon our watch-towers."
The editor then closed with his recommendation and full endorsement of KMI, especially in the then present tying times. He stated, "We recommend this Military Institute to the patronage of the citizens of Kentucky; for their sons may require the sword as well as they scythe; and they will find, unless some good Providence give a different direction upon this mad time, that those men will be most useful to their State who have made more proficiency in tactics than in the quieter paths of the classics." (Emphasis in original.)

The Kentucky Military Institute was founded in 1845 by Robert T.P. Allen, a former West Point graduate, veteran of the Seminole War, and professor at Transylvania University, and was chartered in 1847. The institute was located just six miles south of Frankfort and drew students largely from the Ohio River valley and the Southern states. The school produced scores of soldiers for both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1894 the school moved to Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and then in 1896 moved to Lyndon, in Jefferson County, Kentucky. In 1906 the Institute began the interesting (and I'm sure popular) practice of moving its winter session to Florida, and apparently and strangely, it kept up the practice until it closed its doors in 1971.
Military institutes were extremely popular choices for Southern parents in the antebellum years. Almost every Southern state could count one or more private or state supported military schools. In his book, The Militant South, historian John Hope Franklin explained their appeal to antebellum Southerners. A military style education, "provided the type of experience that made for stronger, healthier men," plus it encouraged a high level of scholarship, reinforced Southern values, and properly prepared the pupils for their futures as Southern men .(pg. 139)
As my research continues, I hope to find more interesting connections between KMI and John Brown's raid.

1 comment:

  1. KMI' connection is loose at best. John Brown's Raid does have Kentucky connections, though. See "Wicked River, the Mississippi, When It Last Ran Wild" by Lee Sandlin, Random House (2010). In this very readable history a slave rebellion conspiracy, similar and precursor to John Brown's delusion of grandeur, led by John Murrel was a very popular rumor beginning around 1835 and traced to a pamphlet titled "A History of the Detection, Conviction, Life and Designs of John A. Murel, the Great Western Land Pirate; Together with His System of Villainy, and Plan of Exciting a Negro Rebellion, Also a Catalogue of the Names of Four Hundred and Fifty-five of His Mystic Clan Fellows and Followers, and a Statement of Their Efforts for the Destruction of Virgil A. Stewart, by Augustus Q. Walton." Among the list of conspirators was "somebody called Williamson in Kentucky," page 147 of Sandlin. This helped make possible John Brown's raid by instilling a belief that there would be broad support for such an enterprise. Today the Williamson name is very common in Kentucky; the Republican leader of the state senate is a Williamson.