"Pathways to Freedom: Kentucky and the Civil War" Symposium; March 10-11, 2011
About the Symposium
At the beginning of the sesquicentennial commemorating the Civil War, the University of Louisville College of Arts and Sciences and its Arts and Culture Partnership Initiative hosted a two day scholar and community forum, March 10-11, 2011.
While past forums have focused on Louisville and the Ohio Valley, the 2011 symposum focused on the war in Kentucky as it and the nation struggled toward a new birth of freedom.
Perhaps in no other state did the word freedom find so many connotations as in Kentucky. To Southern sympathizers it meant freedom to secede. To Unionists it meant freedom from federal meddling and military control. To slave holders it was the freedom to hold human chattel, while for their enslaved it meant freedom from bondage. All Kentuckians desired freedom from skirmishes and guerilla warfare. With so many crosscurrents not every freedom could be achieved. At the end of four years of bloody conflict the single freedom from slavery was achieved. This forum explored the pathway to that freedom.
In 1861 Kentuckys large population and rich agriculture made it important to both north and south. Due to its strategic location in the Ohio Valley many feared it would be a major battleground if war came. Such fears proved unfounded. Still Kentucky witnessed its share of battles at Mill Springs, Richmond, Perryville and other sites. Confederate raiders John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Quantrill, and Sue Mundy destroyed Union supply depots, bridges, courthouses, and personal property. Beginning in 1864 bands of unruly soldiers from both sides looted small towns and robbed local farmers from the Purchase to Appalachia.With the entire Commonwealth engulfed in conflict, all segments of society stepped forward to serve. Most soldiers enlisted in the Union cause, many from the eastern region, while western Kentucky was more pro-Confederate. Women did their part at home and in hospitals where they assisted physicians. Immigrant groups chose sides, none more important than the large German population.
Great numbers of African Americans too joined in giving valuable service to winning their freedom. Thousands from central Kentucky were impounded to build railroads for the Union army. In 1864 President Lincoln declared that any slave who enlisted would be given freedom. To Camp Nelson in Jessamine County went thousands more to enlist and to train. Camp Nelson was a cradle of freedom becoming the chief center issuing emancipation papers to former slaves. Still others fled toward Louisville where six U. S. Colored Troop regiments were organized and a large refugee camp was planted at 18th and Broadwayand the free black community provided aid to black soldiers and their families.
Emancipation came late for Kentucky's slaves. Unless one enlisted, escaped, or was confiscated he/she remained in bondage until the ratification of the 13th amendment. It opened the limited pathways of freedom to all. But freedmen learned quickly that emancipation wasn't tantamount to freedom. Black codes and Jim Crow laws postponed the work of reconstruction for more than a century after the guns went silent across the Ohio Valley.