Kentucky’s Role in the Civil War

During the American Civil War, the state of Kentucky played a key role. Kentucky was a border state, separating the Confederate States and the Union of the North. Kentucky was highly sought after by both the Union and the Confederacy throughout the war and lead to intense, often bloody, battles to keep or regain control.

Kentucky at the Start of the Civil War

At the outset of Civil War, shortly after the fighting at Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, Kentucky’s state legislature officially declared its neutrality. Kentucky did not officially align itself with the Union, nor did it secede to join the Confederate States.

However, a failed attempt by the Confederacy, lead by General Leonidas Polk, to take the state by force to join the Confederate States all but forced the state’s legislature to pick a side. After the failed coup by General Polk, Kentucky state legislature petitioned the Union Army for assistance. In early 1862, Kentucky was largely under Union control.

Kentucky During the Civil War

Kentucky saw a decent amount of action during the Civil War. It was the site of several fierce battles such as Mill Springs and Perryville; the latter of which was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War in Kentucky. It was also host to our very own Middlecreek battle, the decisive battle for Eastern Kentucky on February 10, 1862.

Kentucky also played host to important military figures. On the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant was in Kentucky and first encountered serious Confederate gunfire coming from Columbus, Kentucky. As for the Confederacy, the Confederate Calvary leader Nathan Bedford Forrest wreaked havoc on the Union Army in Western Kentucky.

Who Kentuckians Fought For During the Civil War

While Kentucky remained mostly under Union control after early 1862, even after stating their desired neutrality, there was clear division socially as to who the people of Kentucky supported.

Kentuckians as Union Soldiers


Kentuckians as Confederate Soldiers


Historical Views on Kentucky During the Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln held Kentucky in high esteem. As well he should; Kentucky was the site of his birthplace as well as his wife’s, Mary Todd. Early on in the war, in a letter to Orville Browning, President Lincoln remarked:

I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.”

After the battle at Perryville, Kentucky remained largely under Union control for the rest of the Civil War. Kentucky was a vital strategic base of operations for the Union as it was a crucial border state separating the Confederate States from the Union.