Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State

By Whites, LeeAnn | The Journal of Southern History, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State


Whites, LeeAnn, The Journal of Southern History


Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State. By Anne E. Marshall. Civil War America. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c. 2010. Pp. [xvi], 233. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-8078-3436-7.)

In Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State, Anne E. Marshall suggests that Kentucky, through "the efforts of white Kentuckians to celebrate the Confederacy," became more Confederate after the Civil War than it was before the war (p. 4). Eastern Kentucky actually seemed more Unionist after the war than before. However, because eastern Kentucky was marginalized, the region's memory of itself as Unionist "ultimately served only to reinforce the state's general Confederate identity," the dominant memory, though in fact the state had never joined the Confederacy (p. 112). Marshall's book is beautifully written and is truly a pleasure to read. Much of her research is based on the postwar popular press--newspapers, periodicals, and novels--making for a colorful and engaging read, at least in Marshall's able hands. Her discussion of memory is sophisticated, and the book illustrates effectively her point that memory is a matter of what actually happened in the past being reinterpreted through events and issues that press upon people in the present moment.

The factor most responsible for the postwar creation of a Confederate identity among white Kentuckians was, according to Marshall, their response to black freedom. She traces the role of race in intensifying Confederate identity to the Civil War itself. So while Kentucky initially attempted to remain neutral, one major turning point for the state's conditional Unionists was the change in Republican policy from supporting slave ownership in the Union border states to actively recruiting slaves into the Union army by early 1864. Marshall suggests that as slaves enlisted in the Union army during the war and thereby gained their freedom, neutral white Kentuckians turned Confederate. After the war, race relations played an even more powerful role in uniting white Kentuckians behind a Confederate identity. Because Kentucky never seceded from the Union, it experienced no formal military reconstruction as the rest of the South did. As a result, Republican political power was considerably weakened in the state, particularly as those white men who actually fought for the Confederacy were only briefly disenfranchised. As a wide swath of white Kentuckians shared the same commitment to white supremacy regardless of their wartime loyalties, their common position in relation to the freed population and their free hand in exercising their power led to a rise in their identification with the Confederacy on racial grounds. …

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