Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky

Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky

Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky

Wolford's Cavalry: The Colonel, the War in the West, and the Emancipation Question in Kentucky

Synopsis

Colonel Frank Wolford, the acclaimed Civil War colonel of the First Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry, is remembered today primarily for his unenviable reputation. Despite his stellar service record and widespread fame, Wolford ruined his reputation and his career over the question of emancipation and the enlistment of African Americans in the army.

Unhappy with Abraham Lincoln's public stance on slavery, Wolford rebelled and made a series of treasonous speeches against the president. Dishonorably discharged and arrested three times, Wolford, on the brink of being exiled beyond federal lines into the Confederacy, was taken in irons to Washington DC to meet with Lincoln. Lincoln spared Wolford, however, and the disgraced colonel returned to Kentucky, where he was admired for his war record and rewarded politically for his racially based rebellion against Lincoln.

Although his military record established him as one of the most vigorous, courageous, and original commanders in the cavalry, Wolford's later reputation suffered. Dan Lee restores balance to the story of a crude, complicated, but talented man and the unconventional regiment he led in the fight to save the Union. Placing Wolford in the context of the political and cultural crosscurrents that tore at Kentucky during the war, Lee fills out the historical picture of "Old Roman Nose."

Excerpt

On a certain night in October 2014, I was at stately old Cherry Hall on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green to speak about the L&N Railroad during the Civil War. Chatting afterward with some of the audience, I was asked about my next writing project. When I answered, “Colonel Frank Wolford,” a lady said, “He was kind of bad, wasn’t he?”

That is what is remembered of Colonel Wolford, a veteran of the Mexican-American War, a celebrated attorney, a multiterm member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, and a gallant cavalry leader from 1861 to early 1864. During the war, his name appeared in newspapers from every corner of America. He was familiar to readers of the German-language newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Der Lecha Patriot, and the Spanish-language Santa Fe Gazette. After the war, Wolford was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and, for a time, the adjutant general of Kentucky. Despite all of his service, and his widespread nineteenth-century fame, what is remembered about him today is that he was kind of bad.

Wolford’s unenviable reputation springs from an offense that he committed while he was still the nationally acclaimed colonel of the 1st Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry. in early 1864, after months of personal brooding and building resentment, Frank Wolford ruined both his reputation and his career over the question of emancipation and its corollary, the enlistment of African Americans in the Federal army. He made a series of speeches that were so disloyal, even treasonous, that he was dishonorably discharged from the service. Few men’s fall was so steep . . .

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