Rev. Robert Breckinridge of Danville KY
(July 27, 2012) - On this date in 1862, a pair of Presbyterian preachers was lodged in the Newport Barracks on charges of disloyalty.
Union authorities arrested the pastors, the Rev. Thomas A. Hoyt of Louisville and the Rev. James H. Brooks of St. Louis, in Cincinnati and jailed them after searching “their persons and baggage,” according to Lewis and Richard Collins’ History of Kentucky.
Hoyt and Brooks were snared in a statewide dragnet of Rebel sympathizing parsons. Before the Civil War, Protestant churches split into Northern, anti-slavery and Southern, pro-slavery branches.
Kentucky didn’t secede, but it was a slave state. Hence, almost all Kentucky churches affiliated with the Southern denominations.
Like their counterparts in Confederate states, a number of Kentucky pastors were outspokenly pro-slavery and pro-secession. Union civilian and military officers considered them traitors. (In the Confederacy, pro-Union and anti-slavery pastors were also deemed disloyal and punished with arrest or exile.)
Joining Hoyt and Brooks in captivity were the Revs. S.D. Baldwin, R. Ford and E.D. Elliott, all from Union-occupied Nashville. The Yankees accused them of treason and shipped them through Kentucky to Camp Chase, Ohio, the old history book says.
“Rev. Thomas J. Fisher, the celebrated Baptist ‘revival preacher,’” was arrested for disloyalty in Campbell County and carted off to Newport Barracks, too. The Rev. W.H. Hopson of the Christian Church in Lexington wound up behind bars in Louisville, according to History of Kentucky.
The dragnet didn’t just entangle men of the cloth. Well-known Southern-sympathizing politicians and others were rounded up in advance of the August 4 elections for state and local officials, says the old history book.
Meanwhile, on June 22, Union officials had halted publication of two Louisville religious papers – Rev. Stuart Robinson’s True Presbyterian and Rev. Charles Y. Duncan’s The Baptist Recorder on the grounds that the sheets were treasonous. (The Confederates also suppressed pro-Union papers.)
Robinson, pastor of Louisville's Second Presbyterian Church, had a bitter rival in Presbyterian ranks, the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge of Danville, an ardent Unionist and friend of President Abraham Lincoln.
Though a slave owner, Breckinridge turned against the South's peculiar institution and was one of the first Kentucky Republicans. Like his denomination and home state, Breckinridge’s family was divided over the war. Two of his sons were Rebel officers, and two others were Union officers.
Breckinridge was a fierce critic of Robertson and other pro-Confederate pastors, according to The Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky by E. Merton Coulter. Breckinridge denounced “ministers, pretending to be horrified at every mention of political affairs by professing Christians; while they are themselves at the same time, such turbulent traitors, that the peace of society requires their own incarceration,” according to Coulter.
- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.