Finding Kentucky’s lost cause

BY RANDY GRAHAM

Guest columnist

Recent removal of Confederate statues prompts questions. Is it dangerous to view the past through modern lenses alone? Are we acting on emotion or logic, historical perspective or a rewriting of history? If the study of math and sciences will give America a technological edge in the future won’t it be an understanding of history that will keep that future free?

Behind Kentucky’s capital beside the floral clock there is a plaque that reads the following. “Near this spot four innocent confederate prisoners were executed for the death of Robert Graham of Peaks Mill…” Robert Graham was my Great Great Grandfather.

Nowhere in the country was a state more “consciously” divided during the civil war than Kentucky for a simple reason. Our elected leaders chose neutrality, which made each citizen make a conscience decision as to what side they would fight for or favor. In an attempt to avoid conflict, we unintentionally thrust ourselves into a bitter divide placing brother against brother.

John Breckinridge, a graduate of Centre College, statesman and U.S. Senator, recently defeated by Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency, favored secession. He would serve as a general and secretary of war for the Confederacy. Former Governor and U.S. Congressman John Crittenden favored staying with the Union.  Crittenden had two sons who served as generals on both sides. Two grandchildren fought for the north and one for the south.

Had Kentucky’s elected leaders chosen the Union, most Kentuckians would have fought for the north. Had Kentucky chosen the Confederacy, most Kentuckians would have fought for the south. This was an understanding of patriotism for the day. Loyalty was more for state than the United States. The “state” was your country as well.

Abraham Lincoln declared martial law in Kentucky out of fear we might eventually side with the south. He approved the appointment of Union General Stephen Burbidge, a slave owner from Kentucky. Burbidge’s word was law.

In the same way Germany in World War II carried out reprisals against French citizens during Germany’s occupation for the death of German soldiers, Burbidge executed innocent confederate prisoners from Kentucky if a union sympathizer was killed and perpetrators not apprehended. Accounts vary from seventy to as many as one hundred and fifty were executed, leading to the nickname “Butcher” Burbidge. With a population of just over one million these innocent Kentuckians family roots reached deep in the population causing many Pro-Union supporters to have empathy for the Confederate cause by the end of the war and why you don’t see many statues of Abraham Lincoln in the state.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was asked by Lincoln to lead the Union Army but felt he had to show loyalty to his country, Virginia, as did General “Stonewall” Jackson. They were both for freeing the slaves for enlistment into the Confederate army. General Jackson taught Sunday school to the African-American children and sent part of his military salary home to help them. His closest friend during the war was his African-American cook.

After the war, there was no one who did more to bring the country together than Robert E. Lee. He was so respected by both sides that had he run for President he would’ve likely won and probably why it wasn’t until 1970 that his Amnesty Oath was found hidden away in a desk drawer attached to Secretary of State Seward.

In the same way individuals such as Lee shouldn’t be held up as racist and traitors so should Abraham Lincoln not be held up as an accomplice to murder for the actions of Butcher Burbidge. They were captives of their time. Their statues should remain.

Randy Gip Graham is author of the Children’s Book series Boomer’s Positive Lessons on Living. He can be reached at boomer@boomerandkids.com