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

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

After the Horror
Kentucky in Reconstruction

B. Franklin Cooling

Thomas Parsons, a Kentucky Unionist farmer and wartime home guard member, recalled in 1901 how four decades earlier Confederate soldiers from southwest Virginia had gone to Mt. Sterling for parole. The intent, he said, “was to muster out the Rebel armies and get the country back as nearly to its normal condition as possible.” While watching the surrender, which lasted for several days, he recognized many of the ex-Confederates as his former school chums. A little later, one approached him and queried: “Mr., what are they going to do with us fellows?” Presumably, the fear was imprisonment or worse. Parsons pointed out that it depended on how much the questioner respected his parole. The conversation then turned to a nearby contingent of U.S. Colored Troops. The former Rebel sneered with hate at what he called “Smoked Yankees.” Parsons noted ironically that it was the man’s kind who “made it necessary for the Government to call these people into the army to suppress that rebellion.” Even yet, one can imagine the bedraggled prisoner scratching his head before rejoining that the Kentuckians were the “damnedest people out of hell.” What Kentuckians? replied a quizzical Parsons. Why, the Southerners who in the beginning of the conflict “sent their sons out to fight for the South” and then before conflict’s end “sent their Negroes out to kill their sons.” Parsons must have smiled wryly, remembering: “I thought I had never heard the situation better expressed.” In truth, what to do about returning Kentucky rebels, and what to do about the emancipated blacks, basically shaped Kentucky’s transit from war to reconstruction.1

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