Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My, Major Kalfus How You Have Changed!

I recently finished reading, The Battle Rages Higher: The Union's Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry, by Kirk C. Jenkins. Although I had read a significant amount about Kentucky's Confederate soldiers, I honestly had not read much about the Union fighting men of the commonwealth. The book provided good background information on how at least a portion of Kentucky's majority Unionist population experienced the war, which I think will be helpful if I continue to pursue my research on white Kentuckians' opposition to black enlistment.

The 15th Kentucky was raised from men that came from a number of different counties. Soldiers from Jefferson, Bullitt, Shelby, Nelson, Hardin, LaRue, Hart, and Spencer, among others, signed up to fight to save the Union. One soldier in particular had an especially interesting story.

Henry Frederick Kalfus was born on April 14, 1832 in Shepherdsville, Ky (Bullitt Co.-highlighted on map above) and was educated at Hanover College (Indiana), and the Kentucky School of Medicine, where he received his medical degree in 1860. He had married Elizabeth Birkhead in 1854, and raised Company D of the 15th Kentucky after the war broke out. He was elected its captain, and was promoted to major of the regiment on October 9, 1862, a day after the unit had fought at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky.

The 15th Kentucky fought too at Murfreesboro, [Stones River] Tennessee. During the winter battle (Dec. 31-Jan.2, 1862), their young colonel, James Brown Forman was killed. Promotions appeared to be available for almost all of the officers in the regiment, but opposition to President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (to take effect on Jan. 1, 1863) prompted fifteen officers in the regiment to tender their resignations in late January. Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, the army's commander, rejected them all.

In early February, five officers again attempted to resign, but also were rejected by Rosecrans. Kalfus, expecting a promotion was denied when the resignations were rejected and retained his rank of major. Disappointed in the status quo, he wanted out of the service, but he apparently did not want to lose honor by making it look like he resigned due to not being promoted. So, he resigned...but based his stated decision on opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Louisville Democrat published his stated reason for resigning on March 14, 1863:
"That I am painfully convinced that the war is not prosecuted by the present party in power [Republican] in accordance with the principles and policy under which I enlisted eighteen months ago; that I enlisted to fight rebellion, to fight treason, to fight for a reconstruction [emphasis in original] of the Union as it was, but not for the degradation of the white man to an equality with the negro; and being unwilling to sacrifice my liberty of opinion, and more unwilling to encourage insubordination by the utterance of sentiments while in the service which might be considered inconsistent with good order and proper discipline in the army, and as I could not as conscientiously and as zealously discharge my duties as formerly, I respectfully desire that my resignation be accepted; and moreover, that the service would not suffer, because the vacancies of the regiment were now filled, and a competent senior Captain ready to take my place."

A few days earlier Kalfus helped ensure that his resignation be accepted when he did just what he stated he would not do in his letter to the Louisville Democrat. While working on earthworks, and observing African Americans labor at the task, he said so as to be heard by others that, "I am willing for negroes to be employed for such work as this, but when guns are put in their hand we are all going home." Kalfus was arrested and then given a dishonorable discharge. Col. Beatty, who commanded the brigade the 15th was in, wrote in his diary that Kalfus, "will, I doubt not, be a lion among his half-loyal neighbors when he returns home."

Beatty was correct. Kalfus well knew the sentiments of the majority of his fellow Kentuckians about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and thus the possibility of arming African American slaves for combat. The Louisville Democrat wrote about the Kalfus's discharge on March 14. "Had Captain [Major] Kalfus acted with more shrewdness and less honesty he could have withdrawn easily with high honor. Had he resigned on some hypocritical pretense, it would, no doubt, have been more in accordance with official custom and dignity, besides there would have been nothing like treason in the case." Flirting with treason would be in near future for Kalfus.

In August of 1864 Kalfus was arrested for conspiracy with members of the Sons of Liberty to aid the Confederate cause by releasing rebel prisoners and committing terrorist acts in the North. Kalfus was released from incarceration in a prisoner exchange, but upon returning to Louisville found that he was to be arrested again and made his escape to Canada. He returned to Kentucky after the war was over and went back to practicing medicine. He died in Louisville in 1890.

Although the details of the Kalfus story are quite unique, his change in sentiment after the Emancipation Proclamation is representative of a significant portion of Kentucky's white male population, and yet another reason that Kentucky became so identified with the Confederacy after the Civil War was over.

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