Lexington, KY – This March marks the end of the first year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial (i.e., 150th anniversary). Yet, it seems as if no one is paying attention. Those of a certain age remember the hoopla around the Bicentennial of the War Between the States in 1961-1965. That observance spawned a television series (“The Americans”), a Civil War board game produced by Time-Life that arguably launched what became the modern PC game industry, and even a movie (“The General,” starring Fess Parker).
Other than the “bombardment” of Fort Sumter in April 2011, hardly a peep has been heard. To be sure, the 150th reenactment of the Battle of Mill Springs (see below) was observed in January. And a movie, “The Conspirators” produced by Robert Redford opened (and almost immediately closed) in April 2011. But, by and large, the sesquicentennial has been a non-event. Perhaps that clunky word “sesquicentennial” fails to excite. Or we as a people are simply worn out when it comes to war.
For whatever reason, let’s look at some reasons to get excited.
The Civil War Trust, which has been responsible for saving thousands of acres of “hallowed ground,” included several hundred in Kentucky, has published a book titled “The Civil War 150: An Essential To-Do List for the 150th Anniversary” that is basically a “bucket list” for Civil War buffs. Included on the list are four “essentials” in Kentucky, three of which are nearby, and one of those right here is Lexington.
First is the aforementioned Battle of Mill Springs that took place near Nancy, Ky., about 11 miles west of Somerset in Pulaski County. That battle was essentially the opening salvo by the Rebels to secure Kentucky for the Confederacy. One of the two nearby sites was the coda to that attempt: The Perryville Battlefield near Danville. The largest battle in Kentucky was a tactical victory for the Confederates, but a strategic victory for the Federals since it was the last major military action in the state. The Civil War Trust has preserved 385 acres of the battlefield as permanent parkland.
The other nearby site is Camp Nelson, on Danville Road outside Nicholasville. Initially a supply depot, Camp Nelson evolved into the Union’s third largest recruiting station for African American soldiers –– the U.S. Colored Troops. It was also where hundreds of wives and children starved and died of exposure during the winter of 1864-1865 when the Federals failed to care for the camp followers.
The Lexington site is found at the Lexington Cemetery on Leestown Road. Here are to be found the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as statues dedicated to each sides’ dead. Buried here, too, are such notable antebellum figures as Henry Clay, John Cabel Breckinridge, Gen. John Hunt Morgan, and many of Mary Todd Lincoln’s relatives.
Speaking of Morgan, loyal readers will recall two articles in mid-2011 that addressed the history of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s equestrian statue that stands on the Lexington History Museum lawn. Now, another tidbit of information has surfaced, thanks to the diligence of collector, historian and museum trustee R. Burl McCoy.