Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Who Is the Real Number One?

At this time of year when college football is just starting up everyone wants to know, who is number one? I have always thought that to discuss this issue so early in the season was foolish. I am of the mind that it will work itself out when all of the games are finally played.

Likewise, I have always thought that historic firsts were a little foolish. Does it really matter who was the first to do this or that, or who had the most such and such, or which regiment lost the most men at a certain battle? But, being the objective person I try to be, I do see some benefits for claiming first place. After all, who remembers second - except for those who are in second.

Such is the case when over and over I hear that Kentucky was second only to Louisiana in number of United States Colored Troop enlistments. One online reference I located and that seems correct states that the Pelican State sent 24,502 African American men into the ranks. It credits Kentucky for 23,703.  The next closest state is Tennessee with 20, 133. That is a pretty big gap between second and third - not nearly as small as the margin between first and second. Frankly, I was never a math major, but my elementary subtraction skills show that the difference it is only 799 men.

One must take into account a few factors with these numbers:
1. Kentucky was allowed to delay recruitment of African American slaves as soldiers until late May/early June 1864. Therefore, the Bluegrass State had a significantly shorter duration of time to enlist men than Louisiana did. Over a full year in most instances.

2. As noted in recent previous posts to my blog, hundreds - possibly thousands - of Kentucky slaves fled to Tennessee to enlist in the spring, summer, and fall of 1863, and on into the winter and early spring of 1864. Not only were Kentucky slaves going south, they also went to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, as well as other Northern states - even Massachusetts. Yes, Kentuckians served in the famous 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. However Kentucky does not get historical credit for those soldiers.

The service record shown above of Gabriel Young, a Kentucky slave from Mason County (on the Ohio River), who had fled to Ohio to enlist at Ripley (an abolitionist and Underground Railroad hotbed) provides a piece evidence that this soldier was credited to the 6th District of Ohio, not to Kentucky. If you are keeping count, that is only 798 now separating Louisiana and Kentucky.

I would almost bet the farm that over 800 more such men could be found in regiments for other states that actually belonged to Kentucky. In the end does it matter? More and more I am of the mind that it does.

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