above - the cast of "Banished to Canada"
American citizens being banished to Canada may sound pretty far fetched. But that is what happened to twenty one Hickman Countians during the Civil War. General Paine, the Union commander at the fort overlooking Columbus, Kentucky, took it upon himself to exile residents he called "Southern sympathizers" to Canada. Columbus had opened its homes and its hearts to Confederate troops under the command of General Leonidas Polk. However those troops abandoned their positions when U. S. Grant bypassed them by taking Forts Donaldson and Henry in Tennessee.
Occupation of the fort after the Confederates decamped brought a Union army into an area known for its Southern sympathies. General Paine was an Illinois lawyer and a friend of President Lincoln. He prided himself on his strong Union sentiments. The combination of a town with Southern leanings and an occupying force with a rabid Union man led to the exile of whole families from their homes. Paine also sent two sisters from Paducah who had the misfortune to possess fine houses to Canada. Then he used their homes as his headquarters.
This little known event was dramatized in 2006 by Hickman County historian, Virginia Jewell, before her death. Her skit, "Banished to Canada", was performed at the Hickman County Museum last Saturday by members of the original cast. Family members recounted the train ride to Ottawa, Canada and their return home. Some families returned soon after President Lincoln, prompted by a petition from the people of Columbus, ordered Paine to recall the banished. Six weeks after they were "shipped like cattle out of their own state" according to one newspaper report, some returned home.
Many came back to nothing because the Yankees had burned their homes and taken their livestock. All who came home had to pay their own way back.
"Banished to Canada" will be presented again at Columbus Belmont Park during Civil War Days this coming weekend. The performance will be Saturday, October 2th at 11:00 on the porch of the Park Museum. No admission is required.
Photos - above, County Judge Greg Pruitt, District Judge Hunter Whitesell and Crow Westbrooke portrayed angry deported Columbus men. Right, Cherry, Gaye Bencini and Alma Blair - exiled women. Below - Steve and Debra Hardy's six children took part. Right - John Kelly Ross, Hickman County historian, tells the story.