Sunday, November 6, 2016

Paducah and the Civil War

Paducah and the Civil War by John Cashon describes life in the strategic town of Paducah, Kentucky during the Civil War. The book certainly meets the author's mission to "highlight the role of Paducah, Kentucky, in the Western Theater of Operations." Readers who like their Civil War history served with a large helping of the "Rebel Yell" will like Cashon's perspective on Paducah.

Cashon presents events in Kentucky prior to the war in the chapter on "Calls to Secede." He describes the community's emotions in the face of a potential Union invasion. In the time between Lincoln's election and Grant's occupation, the major concern of the citizens was the interruption/interference with river commerce. In contrast to the rest of Kentucky, the area around Paducah favored secession.  The author notes that the June 12, 1861 action of Union troops taking down a Confederate flag in Columbus might have tipped the scale in Paducah's fragile neutrality.

Fort Anderson
The author provides background to the Union invasion of Kentucky. The Kentucky legislature was pro-Union while Governor Magoffin supported secession. Cashon points out that Confederate leaders believed that Union General William Nelson violated the state's neutrality when he established Camp Dick Robinson in Garrard County. On September 2 and 3, Confederate troops occupied Columbus. Grant seized Paducah on September 6 and began the war-long control of the city. General Charles F. Smith was placed in command of Paducah and built earthworks around the city to defend against a rumored Confederate attack. He centered the defenses on the Fort Anderson that was built around the Marine Hospital. Cashon does a good job of reporting the the citizen's reactions.

Major General C. F. Smith
Cashon's chapter on "Early Occupation" describes Smith's command of Paducah. Smith reprimands  General E. A. Paine after his command's return from their demonstration in connection with the Battle of Belmont. Smith's troubles continued with events involving flying a Confederate flag at the former residence of General Lloyd Tilghman. Regrettably, the author did not supplement this chapter with information from General Smith's new biography, Teacher of Civil War Generals - Major General Charles F. Smith, Soldier and West Point Commandant.

My favorite part of Paducah and the Civil War is the chapter on General Grant's ill advised General Orders No. 11. In the order, Grant basically expelled all the Jews in the military district of western Kentucky, western Tennessee, and Mississippi. The order condemned all Jews for "orchestrating an illegal trade of Southern cotton." A delegation of prominent Jewish citizens from Paducah appealed to Lincoln, who quickly had the order rescinded. Grant's edict cast yet another aspersion on his character.

General Nathan B. Forrest
Perhaps the highlight of Cashon's book is his description of General Nathan Bedford Forrest's attack on Paducah. The author carefully traces the story during the March 1864 assault. He describes the events at Hospitals 1 and 2 in fine detail including the treatment of the nurses and seizure of supplies. The balance of the chapter deals with military actions against Fort Anderson. Unlike other Union forts that succumbed to Forrest's "charms," Colonel S. G. Hicks "respectfully" declined "surrendering as you may require." The battle ensued with guns from the Union forts and gunboats shelling buildings around Fort Anderson. The city's residents suffered greatly and many escaped across the Tennessee River to Illinois. Forrest paid a high price for the attack including the death of Colonel Thompson and perhaps 300 killed and 1,000 to 1,200 wounded.

General E. A. Paine
Cashon's narrative concludes a chapter on guerrilla warfare and General Eleazer Paine's "reign of terror." Emboldened by Forrest's attacks, guerilla warfare increased. Neither side seemed safe and the occurrences seemed more the part of common robbers than strategic attacks. The author directs our attention to the activities of General Eleazar Paine. Paine was placed in command at the urging of the Union League of America in Paducah. They wanted Paine because of his harsh treatment of secessionists. Paine unleashed a vicious campaign on the citizens that appeared to be more akin to ransom and profiteering than restoring order. Fortunately, he was brought up on charges and replaced by General Solomon Meredith.

Unfortunately, Cashon's epilogue does not provide answers to many questions. Did the Jewish merchants return to Paducah? How did the city rebuild? What was the impact of Freedman's Bureau? How were the city's politics affected by war and reconstruction? Perhaps, Cashon will answer these questions in a volume about Paducah during Reconstruction.  A current city map showing places mentioned in the book would have been a worthy addition.

John Cashon has deep roots in Kentucky and the Confederacy. His second-great grandfather fought with Forrest. John attended Paducah Tilghman high school and received his bachelor's degree in history from Murray State University.


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