(Friday, February 1, 2013) - On this date in 1863, Kentucky slave owners were scrambling to tell their slaves that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the Bluegrass State.
At the same time, opposition to the president’s order was continuing to build in some Kentucky Union regiments, even among high-ranking officers. Col. Sidney M. Barnes, commander of the Eighth Kentucky Infantry, was typical of Kentuckians who denounced the proclamation.
“I am sorry to see it,” he wrote his wife. “It will do no good and I fear will greatly complicate our difficulties and will entail great miseries and wrongs in the end.”
Like most Kentuckians who donned Yankee blue, Barnes, an Irvine attorney and wealthy slave owner, volunteered to fight for the Union and not against the South’s “peculiar institution.”
Indeed, almost every Kentucky Unionist was simultaneously pro-Union and pro-slavery. Nearly all of them detested the Kentucky-born Lincoln and his anti-slavery “Black Republican Party” almost as much as the Confederates did. When he ran in 1860, Lincoln received only 1,366 votes in his home state – less than one percent of all votes cast.
Several Kentucky officers resigned in protest over the Emancipation Proclamation. Barnes left the army in 1864, but for health or business reasons, or both.
Meanwhile, Barnes commanded the Eighth Kentucky in the battle of Chattanooga, Tenn., in November, 1863, when a half dozen of his men became Union heroes for planting the Stars and Stripes atop Lookout Mountain.
Following the Civil War, many Kentucky Unionists, including a number of Yankee veterans, went over to the Democratic Party, which was largely the pro-slavery party before the war and afterwards the party of white supremacy, especially in border states like Kentucky and the ex-Confederate states. Barnes was not among them. He joined Kentucky’s tiny Republican Party and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1868.
-- 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