Kentucky readies plans for 150th anniversary of Civil War

State was home to battles, presidents of both sides

jbrammer@herald-leader.comDecember 21, 2010 

  • Upcoming Sesquicentennial Events in Kentucky

    Jan. 22: 149th anniversary of the Battle of Mill Springs. Ceremony at Zollicoffer Park, followed by reception at Mill Springs Visitor Center near Somerset.

    Feb. 6: Exhibit opening of Dreadful Calamity, Words, Images, and Music from the Civil War. Hopewell Museum, 800 Pleasant St., Paris.

    April 8-9: Civil War seminar, Winchester.

    April 10: Gravestone dedication, United States Colored Troops, Simpsonville.

FRANKFORT — Kentucky plans to recognize the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with dozens of programs and projects across the state to help recall the bloody, four-year fight.

New Kentucky road maps in February will use the symbol of cannons to designate Civil War sites in the state.

In September, Frankfort will host a Civil War music festival with brass bands, coronets, fifes and drums, and Bowling Green will recognize its occupation under the Confederacy.

The Filson Historical Society in Louisville, the oldest continuously running history society in Kentucky, is planning an array of programs to highlight the war.

"It's going to be exciting," said Stuart Sanders, community services administrator for the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort and administrator for the Kentucky Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, which Gov. Steve Beshear appointed in September 2009.

The chairman of the commission, state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said it is important for Kentucky to remember that the war, which raged from April 12, 1861, to June 1865, divided many families in Kentucky.

"Any history is appropriate to remember and celebrate because looking to our past literally opens our paths to the future to make sure we don't travel in the same wrong directions twice," Yonts said. "The Civil War was a unique event in our country's history. We want to share the unique role Kentucky played in the war."

Sanders noted that the late Kentucky historian Thomas Clark often said Kentucky joined the South after the Civil War ended.

Kentucky was a border state during the war. While most of it leaned toward the Union, it remained pro-slavery. It was the site of fierce battles, such as at Perryville in western Boyle County, Mill Springs in Wayne and Pulaski counties, Richmond and Munfordville.

It also was the birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln, who was born near Hodgenville; his wife, Mary Todd, born in Lexington; and his Southern counterpart, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, born in Fairview, which lies on the line between Christian and Todd counties.

Statues of both men stand today in Kentucky's Capitol Rotunda.

The 25-member commission, which Beshear said will stay in existence until 2015, primarily is encouraging and supporting a variety of community projects, Sanders said.

Most of the events will be tied to the anniversaries of Civil War happenings, he said, noting that most of the Civil War battles in Kentucky occurred in 1862.

"That's why 2012 will be a big year, but we're getting it started in 2011," he said.

Details of a kickoff for the celebration are in the works, but Yonts and Sanders said they expect it to occur in April, the anniversary month of the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., which marks the first engagement in the Civil War.

Because the Beshear commission on the sesquicentennial has no funding, it is focusing on helping community events and local history societies. It is pushing educational activities in schools and colleges to bring in history and government professors to give programs on the war.

"All this worked extremely well with the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, so we are adopting similar strategies for the Civil War anniversary," Sanders said, referring to efforts to recognize Lincoln's 200th birthday.

The Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort also is doing its own sweep of programs, Sanders said.

He noted that it is working with several state agencies on a Civil War trail across the state "to get the traveling public engaged."

Though the financial effect of the sesquicentennial on Kentucky has not been determined, Sanders said many tourism spots in Kentucky noted a 30 percent increase in attendance during the Lincoln Bicentennial.

"We are looking at getting a lot of people from Ohio and Indiana for the Civil War anniversary since Kentucky is the closest state to them with Civil War battlefields," Sanders said.

With the aid of a $1 million federal grant, the state Historical Society also plans to convert its popular history mobile with exhibits to show Civil War events in Kentucky.

The money also will be used for two "museums to go" exhibits and more historical highway markers, which cost about $2,000 each.

Among the events planned by the Filson are the Civil War Field Institute, which involves trips in the spring and fall to battlefield sites in the area. The society, founded in 1884, also has planned academic conferences featuring scholarly papers, public conferences with historians as speakers, and lectures.

"We try to make our presentations as diverse as possible to reflect the myriad stories of history," said Mark Wetherington, Filson director.

Yonts also said diversity will be stressed in the state's Civil War programs.

"Unlike some other states in the South that already have received criticism for not focusing on issues like slavery and the plight of women during the Civil War, we want to hit a variety of issues," he said.

For more information about efforts to observe the Civil War sesquicentennial, go to and

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