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Authors: Rusty Williams

My Old Confederate Home

BOOK: My Old Confederate Home
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A Respectable Place
for Civil War Veterans

Rusty Williams


Copyright © 2010 by Rusty Williams

The University Press of Kentucky
Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth,
serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre
College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University,
The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College,
Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University,
Morehead State University, Murray State University,
Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University,
University of Kentucky, University of Louisville,
and Western Kentucky University.
All rights reserved.

Editorial and Sales Offices:
The University Press of Kentucky
663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008

14 13 12 11 10             5 4 3 2

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Williams, Rusty, 1948–
    My old Confederate home : a respectable place for Civil War veterans /
Rusty Williams.
        p. cm.
    Includes bibliographical references and index.
    ISBN 978-0-8131-2582-4 (hardcover : acid-free paper)
1. Kentucky Confederate Home—History. 2. Soldiers' homes—
Kentucky—History. 3. Veterans—Services for—Kentucky—History.
4. Kentucky—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Veterans—Biography.
5. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Veterans—Biography.
I. Title.
    E564.4.W55 2010

This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting
the requirements of the American National Standard
for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Member of the Association of
American University Presses


o write a book of history requires the assistance of many people in many different ways.

Conversations and correspondence with Jerri Conrad, Boyd Copal, Shirley Copal, Rebecca Myers, Susan Reedy, and other family historians helped me see the Home residents as more than names on ledgers. Recollections by Gin Chaudoin, Sis Marker, Bill Herdt, and other longtime Pewee Valley residents took me back to that village of almost a century ago.

The Kentucky Historical Society is a precious resource for every Kentuckian. Lynne Hollingsworth, Don Rightmyer, Charlene Smith, and Diane Bundy helped me navigate the library, the document collections, and the photo archive there. Reference librarians—particularly those at the Louisville Free Public Library, the Lexington Public Library, the Dallas Public Library, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, and the Filson Historical Society—are the smartest people in the world, and they helped me find what I often didn't know I was looking for. Robin Wallace (Filson), Jason Flaharty (University of Kentucky), Amy Purcell (University of Louisville), and Elizabeth Hogan (Notre Dame) helped me locate just the right photos in their collections.

Early readers Darryl Allara, Jim Chambers, Ken Freehill, Marty Prakope, Anna Ray, Ann Williams, and Phillip Wuntch provided valuable early criticism. Earl Williams, Stephanie Shelton, and the rest of Mr. Chung's Beltline crew stimulated the writing process with endless cups of coffee.

Always clear, supportive, and enthusiastic, Laura E. Sutton and the entire team at the University Press of Kentucky walked the story of the Kentucky Confederate Home through the publishing process. My every encounter with the editorial, sales, marketing, and publicity departments demonstrated their professionalism and passion for this story. Donna Bouvier's meticulous editing was done with an unerring eye toward clarity and scholarship. All have helped create a book much better than the manuscript they started with.

Pat Williams, Julian Williams, Ann and Brien John, and Alan and Bette Stone provided special encouragement. Meagan Alma and Ava Kai were always on my mind.

A native of Anchorage, Kentucky, my wife, Holly, insisted that this story be told—and told well. From first word to last edit, she has been my best critic, avid fan, and tireless cheerleader. Her love and support mark every page.


n the 1940s, as the United States entered World War II, our nation recruited or drafted sixteen million citizen soldiers. We trained them, armed them, and sent many of them into combat. At war's end we discharged them, provided transportation back to their homes and farms, and gave them a booklet explaining their rights as veterans.

“By your service in this war you have done your share to safeguard liberty for yourself, your family and the nation,” it said. “The nation salutes you.”

The booklet listed privileges the veterans would enjoy for having spent years in service to their country. “They are yours,” it told them. “You have earned them just as you have earned the respect and gratitude of your fellow citizens.”

Many of the veterans enrolled in schools, the cost of tuition, fees, books, and supplies paid by the U.S. government in appreciation for their years in uniform. Some purchased houses, using loans whose favorable terms were arranged—and guaranteed—by a grateful government.

Veterans could, if they wished, present themselves to any of 150 veterans' hospitals for medical, surgical, or rehabilitative care, all at no cost to themselves. If they became disabled—even if the disability was unrelated to their time in uniform—they might receive a monthly pension or other benefits in recognition of their military service.

“You have earned them,” their nation told them.

As these veterans of seventy years ago pass away, they are offered a burial plot in a national cemetery and a uniformed military honor guard to mark their final passage. Their family receives an American flag folded into a tight triangle. Accompanying the flag is an embossed certificate bearing the president's signature and expressing the nation's grateful recognition of the veteran's service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“You have earned the respect and gratitude of your fellow citizens.”

Too often in our history we have engaged in warfare to assure our sovereignty, to defend our territory, or to assist weaker nations against brutal aggression; sometimes we have fought for reasons that are tragically unclear. During these times of conflict we often ask our fellow citizens to take up arms on the nation's behalf, requiring them to defend the nation and its people to their final breath, their last drop of blood.

The young men and women who fight our nation's wars provide a special service, and we deem them entitled to a respectable place in the country's history and heart. We often promise special compensation or benefits to those who perform military service; we honor their memory and celebrate their sacrifices.

Like other civilized nations, America has a legacy for caring for the veterans of its wars. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in 1636 pledged lifetime care for any soldier injured in defense of the colony, and the Continental Congress promised mustering-out pay and bonuses for soldiers who served through the end of the Revolutionary War. Veterans of the War of 1812 were given land grants in return for their service. In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln entered into a pact with Union draftees and enlistees when he asked Congress “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and for his orphan.” We honor that pact.

Today's military veterans continue to earn the respect and gratitude of their fellow citizens. The United States now spends $70 billion a year to care for 63 million eligible military veterans, spouses, survivors, and dependents. We may denounce the wars in which they fight, but we demand that men and women who take up arms on our nation's behalf be supported, honored, and treated with respect.

My Old Confederate Home
tells of a time in American history when military veterans—enlistees and draftees who had absorbed bullets with their bodies, lost limbs, saw ghastly sights, and lost four years of family life—came home from war to find little institutional assistance.

For Americans who swore their oaths to the Confederate States of America in the 1860s, their nation did not exist at the end of the Civil War. There was no national treasury to pay these veterans for a train ticket home, compensate them for their service, assist them in their old age, or provide them with a respectful burial.

There was no nation to provide them a respectable place in its heart and history, no nation to salute them.

Most Confederate veterans returned home to live quiet, productive lives. But some—due to lingering war wounds, mental confusion, disability, infirmity, age, or just plain bad luck—were unable to support themselves. Jobless, invalid, and impoverished veterans of Confederate military service became an all-too-common sight on the streets of Southern cities; most small towns knew of at least one veteran unable to feed himself or his family.

Absent any assistance from a national government, and with only minimal aid from states financially strapped by years of war, ex-Confederates began caring for their own. Informally at first, then as part of organized groups, Confederate veterans throughout the South reached out to provide for their less fortunate comrades.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky never joined the Confederacy, opting instead to accept occupation by Federal troops. Nevertheless, more than 40,000 Kentuckians wore Confederate gray during America's Civil War, and a share of them were unable to cope with postwar life. So Kentucky's more successful Confederate veterans—men who, at the dawn of the twentieth century, were building a New South over the ashes of bitterness and occupation—joined with sympathetic women—the mothers, wives, and daughters of veterans—to build a place of refuge for the unfortunates. With the support of a sympathetic state government, they created, financed, furnished, and operated the Kentucky Confederate Home, a charitable institution for needy Confederate veterans.

“The young men Kentucky gave to the Confederate army rendered their state some service and are … entitled to a respectable place in its history,” said one of the orators at the opening of the Kentucky Confederate Home in 1902. Kentucky's Confederate veterans intended the Home to be a grand gesture of fraternal benevolence, a respectable institution far superior to the publicly funded almshouses, poor farms, and asylums typical of the time. Nearly a thousand Confederate veterans who had need of sustenance or care would find comfortable refuge at the elegant Pewee Valley home from 1902 to 1934.

The story of the Kentucky Confederate Home demonstrates the camaraderie of the campfire, the unbreakable bond linking military men who have drunk from the same canteen. But the story of the Home is much more than a story of men acting charitably toward their less fortunate brothers at arms.

The Kentucky Confederate Home was built on and supported by three distinct pillars: energetic Confederate veterans' groups, a sympathetic public, and a generous state government.

Kentucky Confederate veterans and their families were quick to organize after the war. They recovered their dead, built monuments, and remembered their wartime experiences. By the end of the nineteenth century, more than 3,500 ex-Confederates and 4,000 women were active in local United Confederate Veterans camps and United Daughters of the Confederacy chapters. Despite its reluctance to join the Confederacy, Kentucky's memory of a Union occupation that was often oppressive resulted in the commonwealth's becoming more “Southern” in the postwar years than it had ever been during the war.
Kentucky politicians recognized the public's sympathy for their Confederate veterans, especially when ex-Confederates helped Democratic governor J. C. W. Beckham secure his hold on the statehouse following the assassination of Governor William Goebel.

My Old Confederate Home
describes the construction and eventual erosion of these supports as the men and women who created the Kentucky Confederate Home and the men who lived there aged and died, and public interest waned. The Home would eventually become politically inexpedient, its expense outweighed by more general need as Kentucky wrestled with the effects of the Great Depression.

The opening of the Kentucky Confederate Home in 1902 coincided with a closing of the wounds of sectionalism that had festered in Kentucky's political flesh for more than forty years. The years during which the Home operated marked an increasing respect for and pride in Southern heritage among Southerners. At the same time, women were assuming a more active role in social aid programs and politics. Thousands strong, Kentucky clubwomen demanded a greater involvement in, and responsibility for, the well-being of the old men of the Confederate generation. In telling the story of the Home, I hope to provide insight into early-twentieth-century attitudes toward honor, duty, aging, the role of women, social welfare, and the mythology of the Lost Cause.

The story of the Kentucky Confederate Home—the final chapter of Kentucky's Civil War history—has never been told at length.

Many of the Home's operational documents were lost in a 1920 fire, and original documents generated afterward were destroyed after careless filing and microfilming in the 1950s. However, Kentucky United Daughters of the Confederacy files and personal histories recently processed by the Kentucky Historical Society shed new light on the founding, operation, and people of the Home.

I also draw on unpublished letters and family stories collected from descendants of individuals who lived in or were employed by the Home during its operation to complete the history of this unique institution.

My Old Confederate Home
includes the stories of a daring cavalryman turned bank robber, a senile ship's captain, a prosperous former madam, a dapper banker, and a small-town clergyman whose concern for the veterans cost him his pastorate. These individuals, and a dozen others, professed and acted upon deep personal and cultural respect for men who, decades earlier, left their homes and families to fight for a cause that was lost before the first battle was joined.

Most of all, though, the story of the Home is the story of the hundreds of men who lived out their final days there. The stories of an old man who loses his burial fund when the banks fail, a prisoner who trades one institution for another, and a black Confederate, among others, illustrate the unique lives and special needs of the veterans sheltered in the Home. They were farmers, factory workers, trainers, traders, politicians, and professionals who asked for and received help at a time when acceptance of public assistance was seen by some as an act of moral insufficiency.

The veterans who lived in the Kentucky Confederate Home were military men for no more than four years of their long lives (though few who have served in the military would claim that their few years in service did not mark the rest of their days in some manner).
My Old Confederate Home
seeks to remind us that those who take up arms on their nation's behalf are unique individuals; yet they are human beings with aspirations, dreams, and frailties similar to our own. As veterans, they have earned the respect and gratitude of their fellow citizens, but their military service does not define, ennoble, or excuse the rest of their existence.

Still, the men and women who fight our wars deserve a respectable place in our history and in our hearts.

“The nation salutes you.”

BOOK: My Old Confederate Home
9.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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