State's bicentennial observance of War of 1812 will give Kentucky its due

FRANKFORT — Most Kentuckians know little about the War of 1812, but its effect on the Bluegrass State still resonates.

About 64 percent of the American fatalities in the war that some historians have dubbed America's Second Revolution were from Kentucky even though none of its battles were fought in the state.

And 30 of Kentucky's 120 counties are named after figures in the war.

Kentuckians will learn more in 2012 about one of the least remembered wars in America's history, thanks to an 18-member bicentennial commission set up by the state legislature. It is made up of lawmakers, state officials, historians and five citizen members.

The commission hopes to have a kick-off ceremony in the summer, probably in Frankfort, said Stuart Sanders, professional services administrator for the Kentucky Historical Society.

The war that ran from 1812 to 1815 between U.S. forces and those of the British Empire was fought in large part by Kentucky militiamen, predecessors of today's Kentucky National Guard, said Sanders.

Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions, impressments of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, and British support of Native Americans against expansion in the United States.

During the war, Kentucky furnished more than 25,000 men.

About 1,200 of the 1,876 Americans killed in the war were from Kentucky. Many of their remains were never recovered, and their final resting places were not properly marked.

Not only did Kentucky provide the bulk of men who fought the war, but caves in the state, particularly Mammoth Cave, were nearly the only source of nitrate used to make gunpowder for the war after England placed an embargo on the United States at the outbreak of the war.

There are several other sites in Kentucky that have a tangible connection to the war.

They include Bourbon Iron Works in Bath County, where cannon balls for the Navy were made, and the Newport Barracks in Campbell County, site of an arsenal that became the major rendezvous point and supply center for Kentucky troops who participated in the war in Indiana and other parts of the Northwest Territory.

The barracks also was used as a prison in 1814 to house enemy soldiers.

In addition, the war was a proving ground for Kentucky's early 19th-century leaders, including the state's first governor, Isaac Shelby.

State Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, sponsored the legislation to create the bicentennial commission.

"I did it because Kentucky played such an important role in the war," she said. "I'd heard from some other states that felt they owed a debt of gratitude to Kentucky."

Pullin, a student of history, said she was amazed how much she already has learned about the war.

"I believe other Kentuckians will feel the same way about this," she said.

The bicentennial commission hopes not only to raise statewide awareness about the war but to assist local historical societies, civic groups and schools in encouraging programming about the war and recognizing the role that Native Americans and African-Americans played in the war.

The War of 1812 was the first major event after Kentucky's statehood in 1792 that coalesced Kentucky's identity, Sanders said.

It also had a lasting effect on Kentucky. After the war, the Shawnees never again challenged for control of the state, and nine Kentuckians involved in the war became governor.

No state funding is involved in the commission's efforts to commemorate the war, Sanders said.

Private funds are being sought to highlight state historical markers dealing with the war and for a traveling exhibit about it, he said.

The state historical society also is working on brief notes about the war in each edition of The Legislative Record, a daily compendium of bills that will be considered during the 2012 General Assembly, which begins Jan. 3.