Union Military Policy in Kentucky


Union military policy in the commonwealth angered many Kentuckians and pushed Kentucky to support ex-Confederate politicians after the Civil War.


It was difficult for the Lincoln administration to handle the border state of Kentucky, which was full of pro-Union, proslavery residents. Because some Kentuckians overtly supported the Confederacy, the Federal government viewed the commonwealth with a wary eye. Lincoln worked to keep Kentuckians out of the Confederate army, but heavy-handed Union military policies sometimes alienated Kentuckians from his administration. Lincoln gave Union commanders a free hand, and usually checked abuses only if he were personally contacted.


Several military policies angered Kentuckians. Hundreds of Southern sympathizers were arrested, forced to take Union loyalty oaths, and made to pay security bonds for their future conduct. Citizens who supported guerrilla activity were arrested, and, if the property of loyal Kentuckians was damaged by guerrillas, local secessionists were forced to pay reparations. Ministers were occasionally imprisoned for giving pro-Confederate sermons, Southern-leaning newspapers were shut down, and secessionist political candidates were forced to withdraw their names from ballots. Later in the war, Kentuckians complained when more than fifty Confederate prisoners were executed in retaliation for guerrilla depredations. In several instances, Lincoln stepped in and stopped military executions.


The wartime anger of Kentuckians at Federal policies kept Kentucky in the Democratic camp for decades after the war. Kentuckians supported ex-Confederates for many political offices, including the governorship of Kentucky. Several postbellum Kentucky governors (including James B. McCreary, Luke P. Blackburn, and Simon Bolivar Buckner), congressmen, and legislators were ex-Confederate soldiers.

One page from a four-page Civil War account written by Charlton G. Duke about his capture and imprisonment by Union forces in Kentucky.

Kentucky Historical Society Collections