Col. Thomas E. G. Ransom
(August 24, 2012) - On this date in 1862, Lieutenant Colonel John Olney was on the way out as Yankee commander in Paducah.
Local Unionists had been loudly complaining that Olney, from Shawneetown, Ill., was too soft on secessionists.
Some of the Union men protested to the Louisville Journal. “We deem it right to say that we have heard strong and earnest complaints from high loyal sources of the too great lenity said to be shown to rebels by the military officer in command at Paducah,” the paper editorialized on August 15.
“And we are assured that such complaints, expressed with much feeling, are common among the loyal men of that region. It is said that traitors, known to be such, are taken to Paducah only to be discharged.”
The paper cited “a bitter and loud-mouthed rebel of Lyon County” whose brother was locked up in the military prison in Louisville. According to the Journal, the man went home “became louder and more offensive in his treason than ever” and was rearrested on the order of Brig. Gen. Jeremiah T. Boyle of Danville, Union commander in Kentucky.
The voluble secessionist was taken back to Paducah and released again, the paper said. On Aug. 25, the Journal published a letter from Olney disputing the editorial as “almost entirely untrue.”
Nonetheless, on the same day, Colonel Thomas E.G. Ransom, who would become a general, supplanted Olney. “At last the reign of military imbecility and incompetence is over in our town,” a jubilant Paducah Unionist wrote the Journal. He said Olney’s “administration…will be remembered only as weak, vacillating, and effeminate.”
He claimed Olney was “courted, caressed, and flattered by the secessionists, his excessive vanity appealed to and operated upon.” The author added that “the late commander forgot what was due to himself as a military commander, and became a byword and reproach to the good Union men throughout the length and breadth of Jackson Purchase.”
-- 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.