Op-Ed

My family is connected to Lexington’s Confederate statues; it’s time to move them

Author’s great-great grandfather served under Gen. John Hunt Morgan and studied law under U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Statues of both Confederate leaders stand in downtown Lexington near the site of an historic slave market.
Author’s great-great grandfather served under Gen. John Hunt Morgan and studied law under U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Statues of both Confederate leaders stand in downtown Lexington near the site of an historic slave market. Herald-Leader file photo

Great-great grandfather Thomas Henry Hines had a strong connection to the two Confederate generals whose statues sit in front of the old Fayette County Courthouse.

So, I take personally Mayor Jim Gray’s decision, in light of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., to remove the statues of Gen. John Hunt Morgan and former U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge. But not in the way you may think.

Gray is doing the right thing. It is time for us to stop pretending these violent defenders of human bondage, theses slave owners, these white supremacists deserve such a place of honor in the heart of Lexington.

Yes, they were honorable men who fought for a cause they truly believed in. And other honorable women and men, including many of our Founding Fathers, were slave owners. But George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did not rip the country apart in defense of the indefensible.

Morgan’s famous 1863 raid across the Ohio River into Indiana was in direct violation of his orders. It accomplished very little as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” was roundly defeated and captured, along with Hines, a captain in Morgan’s cavalry and occasional undercover spy.

Morgan and his officers were imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. Supposedly inspired by “Les Miserables,” Hines engineered a tunnel from his cell to free Morgan and five other officers.

In 1864, Morgan led another disastrous raid into Kentucky and Lexington that by most accounts degenerated into a brutal guerrilla campaign of pillaging and looting. On Sept. 4 of that year, he was killed in a surprise attack in Greenville, Tenn., shortly after being dismissed from a departmental command.

Why would we honor that?

The statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge stand on the same ground in Lexington that was once one of the largest slave markets in the South.

And why would we honor someone like Breckinridge, who’s adamant support for slavery and states’ rights led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and to his expulsion from the U.S. Senate as a traitor? When the war ended, Breckinridge fled to Canada. There, one of the young students he trained in law was Thomas Henry Hines, who couldn’t return to the states because he had a price on his head for espionage.

Hines, who as far as I can tell never owned slaves, went on to become chief justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and his portrait hangs in the state Capitol. That is the appropriate place to honor him for his service to Kentucky without glorifying his mistaken support for the Confederate cause.

Likewise, the Morgan and Breckinridge statues belong at a place commemorating veterans. They certainly do not belong at the site of Lexington’s greatest shame and symbol of white supremacy — a slave market, one of the antebellum South’s largest.

To show Gray that there are no hard feelings for him removing monuments of Grandfather Hines’ friends, I’ll pledge to contribute to any fund making that happen. I’d like to think Hines would agree it is the honorable thing to do.

John Winn Miller is a fourth-generation Lexingtonian and a former journalist who produces indie movies and is a partner in the social-media marketing company Friends2Follow.

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