Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

By Kent T. Dollar; Larry H. Whiteaker et al. | Go to book overview

Freedom Is Better Than Slavery
Black Families and Soldiers in
Civil War Kentucky

Marion B. Lucas

In the late 1850s, many of Kentucky’s blacks were aware of the growing antagonism between the North and the South, the role of slavery in the controversy, and the potential impact on their lives. A few, both free and slave, fearing the worst, fled north of the Ohio River at the first opportunity. By 1860, others, aware of the association of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign with the antislavery movement, eagerly waited for and talked openly of anticipated freedom. After the election, rumors of imminent emancipation continued to spread, and, in one area of central Kentucky, slaves became convinced that they would be freed on March 1, 1861.1

Gradually, as the Southern states seceded and hostilities began, news of the war spread throughout the black community. Rumors abounded of one side’s successes only to be contradicted shortly thereafter. All the while, masters assured their slaves that, whatever the outcome, they would remain bondsmen. Of those early war years, one slave later wrote: “We did not know what to believe.”2

Life became more complicated and uncertain for most Kentucky blacks during the early stages of the Civil War. Many freemen complained that the war offered racists an opportunity to harass the black community. Whites threatened to enforce laws that authorized prison sentences for freemen who left the state and returned, and Northern freemen who ventured into the commonwealth occasionally landed in jail, charged with being runaways. These false arrests usually took months to rectify.3

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