Why The Jackson Purchase Had a Confederate Majority in the Civil War

Oct 23, 2014

Credit Amazon.com

The Jackson Purchase was the only region in Kentucky during the Civil War period that had a Confederate majority. Around the Commonwealth, there'd be pro-Confederate counties, but none as unified as the "South Carolina of Kentucky." Author and retired WKCTC history professor Berry Craig stops by Sounds Good to talk with Todd Hatton about documenting the region’s turbulent Civil War history and culture in his new book, Kentucky Confederates.

Author Berry Craig says there have been a number of good studies on the Purchase region during the Civil War, since it was one of the most strategic places in the United States in 1861 because of it's proximity to the four rivers (Ohio, Mississippi, Cumberland, Tennessee). Also Columbus, known as the Gibraltar of the West, was a Confederate stronghold until 1862. He said his book, Kentucky Confederates, aims to be a definitive work on the topic.

Why was the Purchase so different?

Berry Craig says one of the most significant reasons was the rapid expansion of slavery to the region. Kentucky was a slave state, but by 1830, the institution began to decline in the Commonwealth. However, Craig says a dissertation by Patricia Hoskins shows that between 1850 and 1860 the number of slaves increased by 41% in the Purchase.

A second factor was religion. Citing Allen Beermann, Craig says the underlying strong support for slavery stemmed from religion and the predominately Baptist and Methodist ideologies of the time. Ministers came to the region from the deeper south along with most of the early settlement. The Tennessee River flows north and the two natural river barriers to the east shifted what was traditionally parallel migration (from Virginia to Missouri to California) to a northern migration from North Carolina to Tennessee to the Purchase.

This migration was important in influencing the Purchase area's political history. Carolinians and Tennesseeans brought with them a very strong Democratic ideology. For the rest of Kentucky, Whig politics dominated.  Party leader Henry Clay was considered a beloved icon, but in the Purchase, that same fervor was reserved for Democrat Andrew Jackson. The Purchase was called "the Gibraltar of Democracy," Craig says. The three most populous towns pre-Civil War were Paducah, Hickman and Columbus - all on rivers - with heavy trade moving to and from Memphis.

Berry Craig on Sounds Good

Guerrilla Fighting in the Purchase

At first, guerrilla fighters were attached to Confederate soldiers, but they eventually broke ranks and acted as independent militias in the Purchase. Mayfield was particularly affected by these fighters. Craig says one traveling from Mayfield to Paducah or from Mayfield to Murray faced the risk of injury or death from irregulars who were harbored, aided and embedded by the citizens. "The supplies that would leave Paducah would wind up in the hands of guerillas. This whole area was infested in guerrillas until the end of the war." While there were no major battles in the region, except for the Battle of Paducah in 1864, the guerrilla fighting was a severe menace, Craig says.

Are there similarities between the Jackson Purchase of the 21st Century and the Jackson Purchase of the mid 19th?

Craig says they are different landscapes but some traits have carried over into modern times, namely  conservative politics. George Wallace carried Fulton and Hickman counties in 1968. In the course of the Civil War, Fulton County furnished one soldier to the Union side, Hickman County about 15 or 20. The Jackson Purchase also remains a religiously conservative area in southern protestant bible belt. While there are many registered Democrats, they tend to be right-leaning, much different than Louisville Democrats. Berry Craig mentions the Mayfield Convention in 1861, a resolution for the Purchase (which includes west Tennessee) to secede as an example of the region's Confederate distinction from the rest of Kentucky, which was overwhelmingly Unionist.

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Kentucky Confederates by Berry Craig