Saturday, June 26, 2010

“Look Away!” A History of the Confederate States of America

By William C. Davis

The Free Press 2002

Reviewed by Bill Cunningham

Most people think of the Confederate States of America in terms of waging war against the Northern invasion. It is largely forgotten that for four years there were two sovereign nations on the American soil. The Confederates, in addition to supporting the war effort, had to go about the more mundane business of state craft such as raising revenues, allocating monies for public services, maintaining law and order, and making sure the mail got delivered.

It proved not to be easy.

The essence of the day-to-day life of the Confederate government is captured in this overlooked work by WBTS historian William C. Davis of Blacksburg, Virginia. Scores of tomes have dealt with the War, its generals and battles, but this creative work deals with the Southern nation itself—the Confederate States of America.

The Confederate States of America functioned with its own constitution, executive branch, judicial branch, legislation and seat of government. It’s interesting to discover how the strong states’ rights advocates learned that successful nation-building demanded the surrender of many local prerogatives. The Confederate political leaders were required to bring together a conglomeration of states into one cohesive country—galvanize it to fight a war and to govern its people at the same time.

“Look Away” gives one the impression that this monumental challenge was doomed from the beginning. At the organizational meeting in Montgomery in 1861, there were too many selfish interests, including slave mongering—fire eaters such as Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina who had advocated secession as early as the 1830’s. He and others clashed with moderates who placed states’ rights as top priority and were even open to the possibility of non-slave states being admitted to the Confederacy in the future.

There was constant bickering between the states as to how much power should be centered in Richmond as opposed to the various state capitals. These founding fathers of the new nations of the South quickly found that nation-building was not as easy as once thought. Radical decentralization led to chaos and confusion when attempting to wage war and permit local autonomy at the same time.

The infrastructure of the South, especially later in the war when the Union forces gobbled up more and more of the Southern real estate, became increasingly difficult to maintain. Even law and order broke down as huge hunks of manpower were pulled away from small towns and villages leaving them exposed to lawlessness. In the lower South slaves outnumbers whites and they began to wander and pillage at will in some communities.

And then there was the political bickering and infighting which undermined the administration of Jefferson Davis. Davis pushed for more authority to be invested in Richmond and sought high tariffs to help finance the war effort. Both measures were seen as contradictory by some to the secessionists’ main purpose. President Davis is portrayed by the writer as having some strengths, but also burdened with an impossible task destined to failure by the very definition of his new country. Yet at the same time, in the end especially, Jeff Davis is cast as a stubborn fanatic, without vision and without the common sense to know when the Confederacy was beaten and on the verge of ruination.

It is the clear opinion of this book that by far the best selection for the job would have been Kentucky’s own John Cabell Breckinridge, and that if Kentucky had uniformly seceded early the job would have been his. He is correctly portrayed as a moderate, and one of the bright and shining lights of the South, equal in character and ability with Robert E. Lee. Historian Davis states that just prior to the war Breckinridge was the “most revered statesman in the South.”

He had served as vice-President of the United States from 1857-1861. Though obtaining his high military rank purely by his political reputation, he nevertheless became a very effective and well-respected commander involved in numerous major encounters. Very late in the life of the Confederacy, Breckinridge was appointed Secretary of War. By all accounts he “played a poor hand well”, striving gallantly to salvage what he could of a sinking ship.

At the end of the war, when President Davis became divorced from reality, Breckinridge—after conferring with Lee—put forth to the conquering Union General William T. Sherman his own secret peace plan. It would have made the readmission of the Southern states much easier and with less rancor than ultimately came with reconstruction. Sherman forwarded the proposal to Washington. Unfortunately Lincoln, who had previously shown favor to such a deal, died before it could be considered.

This dramatic information, along with other stories of the day-to-day life of the Confederate nation makes for very interesting reading by anyone enthralled with the history of the War for Southern Independence.

Closer to home, the book sadly reminds us that the brilliant career of John C. Breckinridge was permanently derailed by the War. It was not only Kentucky’s loss, but the nation’s.

Bill Cunningham is a Circuit Judge, serving Kentucky’s 56th Judicial Circuit. Judge Cunningham is also an author concentrating on regional history. His books include "Flames in the Wind," "On Bended Knee," "The Night Rider Story," "Kentucky's Clark," "Castle, The Story of a Kentucky Prison," and his own novel, "Children of Promise". His public career includes 30 years in the criminal justice system. He also served the United States in Germany, Vietnam, and Korea.

Originally published in the Winter, 2005 The Lost Cause

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bennett Young and the Missing Medal

Kentuckian Bennett Henderson Young early in life studied to be a Presbyterian minister, but soon found himself robbing banks for the Confederate cause. He survived through dangerous and trying times to become an outstanding Louisville attorney, an author of many books on a variety of subjects, a Confederate benefactor and a philanthropist. 

Bennett Young was born May 25, 1843on a farm in Jessamine County near the town of Nicholasville, the son of Robert and Josephine Henderson Young. When the War for Southern Independence started in April, 1861, Bennett Young was a student at the Bethany Academy in Nicholasville.

In September, 1861, Young entered Centre College, a Presbyterian school, located in DanvilleKentucky. He intended to study for the ministry, but was taken ill in 1862 with typhoid fever and had to discontinue his education.

By September 10, 1862, he was a Private in Company B, 8th Kentucky Cavalry under the command of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Young served in Quirk’s Scouts during 1863 and rode with Morgan during the Great Raid into Indiana and OhioHe was captured in July of 1863 and imprisoned atCamp Douglas near ChicagoIllinois.

Young was able to escape and cross into Canada. He made his way bacto the South sailing through the blockade from Nova Scotia to Bermuda, and reportedly on to RichmondVirginia.  Young proposed, and Secretary Seddon approved (commissioning Young a Lieutenant), to return to Canada and undertake missions into the U.S. from there.

Once back in Canada, Lt. Young was able to recruit other escaped Confederates and form his own company named Young’s 5th Company Retributors CSA. Some of these young men orchestrated the most northern raid made by any Confederate land forces. On October 19, 1864Lieutenant Young’s small unitraided the town of St. AlbansVermont. The raiders were able to take more than $200,000 in greenbacks from several Yankee banks, but failed in their second objective to burn the town. Only one civilian was killed during this short visit to St. Albans. After crossing back into Canada they were arrested. However, a Canadian court determined that they were acting under legal military orders, and that Canada - being neutral in the conflict - would not turn them over to the U.S. Canada did return about $88,000 of the money the raiders had on them to Vermont.

After the War ended, President Andrew Johnson did not include individuals such as Lt. Bennett Young in his amnesty proposal. Young was able to make his way to Ireland. Some authors have reported that he studied law at the University of Ireland and at the University of Edinburgh. Other researchers say he may have studied in Canada as well.

In 1868, he was able to safely return to Kentucky and settle down in the city of Louisville where he became a prominent attorney. He married Mattie Robinson and they had two children.

The list of Young’s accomplishments is legion. He was instrumental in developing the Monon Railroad and the Kentucky and Indiana Bridge, and became President of the Louisville Southern Railway.

Young’s High Bridge was named for him in 1888 for the Louisville Southern Railway at TyroneKentuckyIt stands today as a unique and unaltered cantilever bridge over the Kentucky River. The bridge is no longer in use, but there have been ongoing efforts to find a way to utilize it. Bridge enthusiasts from all over the country visit Young’s High Bridge to study its design. It contains no middle piers and trains traveled over the top of the bridge instead of through the center of the structure.

Young was a representative to the 1878 Paris Exposition and was named President of the Louisville Public Library. He was instrumental in the formation of our current Kentucky Constitution as a member of the 1890 Constitutional Convention. Young was selected to be National Commander of the United Confederate Veterans and was made an honorary lifetime commander. It is likely he received the rank of Colonel within the United Confederate Veterans Association

Colonel Young was an active Confederate benefactor. He was chosen President of the Davis Home Association and under his direction, the Jefferson Davis monument was brought to completion in FairviewKentucky, the birthplace of President Davis. He was very much involved in the creation of the Confederate Veterans Home in Pewee ValleyKentucky. He was an advisor during the construction of the Captain Henry Wirz U.D.C. monument in AndersonvilleGeorgia.

From Page 162 of Valor in Gray by Gregg S. Clemmer: “On his own initiative, he organized the Bellwood Seminary and Presbyterian Normal School for orphan girls, ultimately contributing thousands of dollars of his own money when funds ran low. For many years Bennett Young—he was “General Young now to his friends in Louisvilleserved as President of the Kentucky School For the Blind, regaling youngsters well into the 20th century with his stories of the war times. When he gave of himself for the benefit of his community, he worked for all.  In 1879, he quietly led the effort to establish the Colored Orphan’s Home, serving as president of the charity for more than two decades. For 50 years, he had superintended the afternoon Sunday school at Stuart Robinson Memorial Church.”

Much of his legal work for the poor was done pro bono and the list of his generosities goes on and on.

In addition, Young somehow found time to be a prolific author. A partial bibliography is at the end of this article. Confederate Wizards of the Saddle: Being Reminiscences and Observations of One Who Rode with Morgan is probably his best known work among students of the War for Southern Independence. However, The Prehistoric Men of Kentucky became a widely recognized archeological text (yes, Young gained a passion for archeology in the 1890's), and A History of Jessamine County, Kentucky remained a standard textbook in Jessamine County schools for many decades. Dr. Gander of Youngland was a posthumous publication gathering tales Young read to the children at the blind asylum (and was also published in Braille).

It is reported that when Colonel Young visited MontrealCanada, in 1911, a group of dignitaries (including a Vermont congressman) from St. Albans called on him at the Ritz-Carlton. The event was recorded in the Montreal papers, and apparently rather than being hated in St. Albans, Young had become something of a legend. Greeting the Vermont visitors in his uniform, Young had apparently brought with him ample stocks of Kentucky bourbon as gifts, which helped make the evening a very cordial one.

Colonel Young’s home known as “Youngland” is located in the southwestern part of Louisville at the corner of Youngland Avenue and Dixie Highway. This fine brick building stood empty and in a state of disrepair for years. Fortunately, it has now been rehabbed into attractive apartments.

It is said of Col. Bennett Young that he lived an exemplary life and was never known to play cards, use tobacco, drink or utter a word that could not be repeated before any woman. He died on February 23, 1919, and is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

Young was placed on the honor roll for a Southern Medal of Honor for the St. Alban's raid. According toValor in Gray: “His (Young’s) Confederate Medal of Honor is on permanent public display at the Kentucky Military Museum in FrankfortKentucky.” A spokesman at the Kentucky Historical Society which operates the Military Museum informed us that they have never had his medal! This is not true, as Past SCV Kentucky Division Commander, the late Frank Rankin, had presented the medal to the Museum. There was some postulation that Rankin had retrieved the medal, but on his death a complete inventory of his collection was taken and Young's medal was not there. The museum is operated in part by the Kentucky Historical Society, and considering the hostility towards Kentucky Confederate history regularly seen from the KHS leadership, the theory that political correctness led to Young's medal being "misplaced" has been popular.

Fortunately, the Sons of Confederate Veterans has had Young's Medal of Honor replaced. The new medal was presented to Division Commander Hiter this past May by SCV Executive Director Ben Sewell (a member of Camp 100) when both were in Vicksburg for the Kentucky Confederate Monument dedication there, and Cmdr. Hiter entrusted it to now Lt. Division Commander John Suttles, who had arranged for the medal to be on permanent display at the Tilghman House Museum in Paducah - a museum wholly owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. There it will be displayed proudly, and will not fall victim easily to neglect or political correctness.

Colonel Bennett Henderson Young’s large grave marker is designed with an open bible and engraved upon the open pages are these wordsI Have Kept the Faith. Indeed, he did.

Thanks are in order to my friend, Stewart Cruickshank of NashvilleTennessee, for shedding light on Bennett Young’s Confederate military service.

Photo by John Suttles.

The following is a partial list by date of articles and books written by Colonel Young:
In 1890, Eight Years of Presbyterian Evangelistic Work in Kentucky
In 1898, A History of Jessamine CountyKentucky
In 1903, The Battle of the Thames: in which Kentuckians defeated the British, French and Indians, October 5,1813with a list of the officers and privates who won the victory
In 1907, Kentucky Eloquence Past and Present, Library of Orations, After-Dinner Speeches, Popular and Classic Lectures Addresses and Poetry
In 1908, Complaint of Bennett H. Young et al Against the Synod of Kentucky 1908
In 1910, The Prehistoric Men of Kentucky
In 1914, Confederate Wizards of the Saddle: Being Reminiscences and Observations of One Who Rode with Morgan
In 1914, Colonel Roy S. Cluke’s Kentucky Raid, Forrest’s Pursuit and Capture of Streight, Forrest at Bryce’s Cross Roads all were published in the National Magazine
In 1921, Dr. Gander of Youngland 

Nancy Hitt – 2010