old woodcut image of the Kentucky River

A Teacher’s Guide to

Kentucky’s Story

A nine-part Kentucky history series for grades 4 and 5, produced by KET.

See our online ITV catalog  for upcoming broadcasts and additional information for teachers.

Civil War

Program Goal

Students will understand that the civil war affected both children and adults, even in the absence of actual battle, and will discuss some of those effects.

Program Summary

The Civil War not only split nation and family-it caused personal sacrifices off the battlefield as well as on it. In Program 6, a young boy experiences these effects firsthand as he watches his father and uncle feud and his nanny fear for her freedom and future. He truly discovers the meaning of sacrifice when Confederate soldiers steal all the family's horses (and wealth), leaving only his pet pony, which must then become the family workhorse.

Historical Background

The Civil War in Kentucky(1860-1865)

As the sectional conflict pushed the fragile nation into war, Kentuckians found themselves divided in sympathies. The prevailing sentiment in the state upheld the preservation of the Union. Nevertheless, the commonwealth furnished outspoken suporters for both sides.

A border state, Kentucky enjoyed strong ties with both the North and the South. Her slave labor system linked her to the South, yet her diversified agriculture provided products for both northern and southern markets. Social and cultural traditions also were rooted in both sections, and the presidents of both sides were natives of Kentucky-Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville and Jefferson Davis in Christian (now Todd) County. Attempting to extract the Commonwealth from a volatile situation, in the spring of 1861 the governor and legislature declared that Kentucky was neutral. Unfortunately, the state's strategic location rendered neutrality unacceptable, for Kentucky controlled trade, sup-ply, and invasion routes vital to both the North and the South.

Neutrality ended in September of 1861 when the Confederates seized Columbus, Kentucky. Union troops immediately moved into Paducah and Louisville and spread across the northern portion of the state. The southern army commanded critical points between the Cumber-land Gap and the Mississippi River, with the center of their military operations at Bowling Green. In late autumn a convention held in Russellville established a Confederate state of Kentucky and proclaimed Bowling Green the capital. The Confederate occupation of the southern sector of the commonwealth lasted five months. Following their defeat at Logan's Crossroads in January 1862, the surrender of Fort Donelson, Tennessee a few weeks later and the advance into central Kentucky of a large Union army, southern forces withdrew from Kentucky in mid-February. They returned in late summer, however, and pushed into the Bluegrass heartland, hoping to win recruits and perhaps the state for their cause. Brief encounters between the antagonists occurred at Munfordville, Cynthiana, Richmond and elsewhere, but the major clash in Kentucky came early in October at Perryville. Both sides suffered enormous losses. Realizing their casualties were greater than any gains netted from the invasion and disappointed because few Kentuckians joined their ranks, the Confederates retreated from Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. During the remainder of the conflict Kentuckians were plagued with brief visits from John Hunt Morgan and other raiders, but the Confederates attempted no major offensives into the commonwealth after 1862.

In the early months of the hostilities a tremendous surge of patriotism and political furor swept thousands of young men into the armies. This ardor waned, however, as the war dragged on, and by the summer of 1863, both governments had instituted a draft, although the Confederate one could not be en-forced. Kentuckians loudly pro-tested the Federal draft, claiming that conscription was degrading, un-American and unconstitutional. The law permitted draftees to hire substitutes or to pay a $300 commutation fee to employ others, but many of those unable to afford the luxury of buying their way out of military service successfully dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada, Europe, neighboring states or merely by hiding from the draft officials. Nevertheless, during the war about 120,000 to 140,000 Kentuckians served in the armed forces (25,000-40,000 in the Confederate army and 90,000 in the Union army, including 20,000 blacks.) Perhaps as many as one-third of these soldiers died, either of battle wounds or from disease.

Camp life quickly dispelled all illusions about the glories of military life. Union troops generally received better clothing and equipment than did the confederates, but by modern standards, neither army was well outfitted. Housing consisted of tents and stick and mud huts-stifling in the summer, cold and wet during inclement weather. Rations were issued, but the men generally prepared their own food and thus ate much raw, charred, and putrid fare and frequently quenched their thirsts with polluted water. Enteric diseases felled thousands. Training was haphazard at best. Neither officers' training schools nor boot camps for enlisted men were available. Marksmanship exercises were unknown, and soldiers generally regarded all activities on the drill field as tedious and boring; sham battles were considered merely amusing. The horrors of the battlefield and the military "hospital" sickened even the most calloused veteran.

Few civilians remained untouched by the war. Residents living in areas visited by armies suffered terrible economic losses, for the military marched across and bivouacked on private land, com- mandeering whatever its members needed. Soldiers drilled in clover fields, cut down trees that obstructed their view, burned fences for firewood, took food for themselves and forage for their animals, seized horses and livestock, paid for some things with worthless or inflated money or IOUs, simply stole other items, confiscated whatever buildings they required to house the sick and store supplies, over-taxed and wore out bridges and roadways, destroyed public and private buildings that might aid the enemy, and created major health and sanitation problems. Guerillas also preyed on area inhabitants-especially on those unable to protect themselves-and committed brutal crimes in the name of Union and Confederate governments. Marcellus Jerome Clark ("Sue Mundy"), a former Morgan raider hanged for his nefarious activities, and Champ Ferguson, who terrorized eastern Kentucky, were among the best known villains operating in the state. To suppress activities by marauders who harbored southern sympathies, Union authorities instituted punishments and retaliations that included fines, jail sentences, banishments, and even the executions of a few secessionists. Such policies inflamed hatreds against the Federal government that would remain for decades.

Many families had one member in each army. The pitting of father against son and brother against brother split families and fostered bitterness that remained long after the war ended. Some returning soldiers experienced difficulties adjusting to life in close proximity to former foes, and for many civilians the presence of returned veterans became a constant reminder of those buried in faraway graves.

The Civil War inflicted physical and emotional scars on Kentuckians that required decades to erase. Divided families, guerilla acts, harsh treatment of loyal residents-all of these contributed to post-war rancor. Economic changes resulting from trade restrictions, demands made by the military and the absence of a large portion of the wage-earning population also seriously affected the state and its citizens. The greatest economic adjustment, however, resulted from the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which freed, without compensation, Kentucky's 225,000 slaves (valued in 1864 at about $34,000,000). Other post war "adjustments" engendered even greater hatreds, and Kentuckians soon found themselves exhibiting strong kinships with residents of the Deep South. Many historians have concluded that Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the war ended.

Suggested Activities

  1. Find out what military activities occurred in your town or county during the Civil War. How were the civilians affected? Did any of the state's wartime military or political leaders come from your area? If so, discover as much as you can about them and share your discoveries with the rest of the class.
  2. Make a mural illustrating Civil War camp life or a skirmish/ battle that occurred in Kentucky.
  3. Ask a local historian, member of a reenactment group, or representative from the military museum in Frankfort to visit the class and talk about some phase of the war.
  4. Make hardtack, the "staff of life" biscuit on which the Civil War soldier lived. Use plain flour (not self-rising), a little salt and enough water to mix to the consistency of pie dough. Roll out to 3/16ths of an inch thick and cut into 2-inch squares. Bake until slightly brown on top. Punch holes in the warm hardtack and allow to cool. The next day eat cold hardtack, beef jerky and tepid water for lunch. Discuss the nutritional shortcomings and monotony of a steady diet of such foods.
  5. Read a Civil War story and write a synopsis of it. Illustrate your report.
  6. Write and put on a play concerning the trials and tribulations of the civilian members of a family during the war. Base your story as closely as possible on a family in your area.
  7. Have students research and write short reports about some of the most important persons of the Civil War era (Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, John Hunt Morgan). What were their backgrounds? Why did they feel the way they did about slavery and human rights? Do any of these old problems, questions and prejudices still come up today?
  8. Discuss the conditions which confronted Union and Con-federate soldiers once they went off to war. What was life like for them? Was it easy to maintain their interest in their cause under such conditions?
  9. Discuss war with the class. List the many reasons people go to war (money, religion, possessions, economic advantages, jealousy). Were there other issues besides slavery which contributed to the seccesionist conflict which resulted in the Civil War?

Web Pics

Free and Inexpensive Materials

  • Civil War traveling exhibit, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort.
  • A "Traveling Trunk" program is available for use by children's educational groups. Trunks contain curriculm guides, videos, games, toys, period clothing, and many other items representive of Lincoln's life. Trunks may be reserved by calling (270) 358-3137. Borrowers must pay mailing costs. Lincoln National Historic Site, Box 94, Hodgenville, KY 42748.


Baird, Nancy D.
There Is No Sun-day in the Army: Civil War Letters of Lunsford Pitts Yandell, Jr. 1861-62
Filson Club History Quarterly, (November 1979)

Creason, Joe
Kentucky's Efforts to Remain Neutral
Civil War Times, Illustrated, 2 (January 1961), pp. 8-9.

Crocker, Helen B.
A War Divides Green River Country
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society b, 70 (October 1972), pp. 295-311

*Hamilton, Holman
Three Kentucky Presidents
Lexington, 1978

*Harrison, Lowell H.
The Civil War in Kentucky
Lexington, 1975
The Civil War in South Central Kentucky
South Central Historical Quarterly, 2 (April 1974), pp. 1-6; (July 1974), pp. 1-4

*Heck, Frank H.
Proud Kentuckian: John C. Breckinridge
. Lexington, 1976

Lexington-Fayette County Historical Commission, comp.
Window on the War: Frances Dallam Peters'
Lexington Civil War Diary
Lexington, 1980

Messer, Charles
Louisville During the Civil War
Filson Club History Quarterly, 52 (April 1978), pp. 206-233

Smith, John David
The Recruitment of Negro Soldiers in Kentucky, 1863-5
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 72 (October 1974), pp. 364-390

Tapp, Hambleton, ed.
The Battle of Perryville
October 8, 1862
As Described in the Diary of Capt. Robert B. Taylor
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 60 (Oct. 1962), pp. 255-92.

*Thomas, Edison H.
John Hunt Morgan and His Raiders
Lexington, 1975

*Denotes books from The Kentucky Bicentennial Bookshelf series.