Rebels on the Border

 How They Talk in Kentucky

A Week’s Tour in the Country


The Rebellion a Success There


The New War Programme


 Correspondence of the Cincinnati Commercial [all links to Wikipedia]

 To many of the good people of Ohio, a week spent in the border counties of Kentucky might not develop anything that they would consider of political significance, but should they leave Covington on Monday morning, and spend six days riding on horseback through four counties, and talk with every person of intelligence whom they should meet or  sojourn a night with, upon the conditions of the country, the probable results of the election, and what would be done in case the Democratic Party succeeds in the coming election, the person who will make such a tour will certainly feel upon his return that he has known nothing of the spirit of the Confederacy which lives at his very threshold, and only awaits political victory to make a bloodier war that that which stamped Kentucky as the “dark and bloody ground,” in early days.

 My object shall be to state what I saw and heard, and leave the reader to form his own deductions and opinions.

 On Monday morning I mounted my horse, in Covington, and started out upon the road to Florence, in Boone County.  The road is a fine turnpike, and full of travel, so that one can not ride any great distance without meeting some person who is willing to indulge in conversation of a general character.  This good fortune was mine, for I had not passed Lewisburg until I overtook a party of three gentlemen, all residents of Boone County.  After the usual courtesies were exchanged, we were not long in dropping into that general groove of conversation, the political condition of the country.

 “I suppose the prospect of a quiet condition of affairs is not very favorable.” I remarked in the course of the conversation.

 “No,” replied Mr. W___ of P___, “and we don’t want any such condition.  The Northern Democrats are talking about restoring peace, and settling the troubles of the country at once.  They are fools, and know well enough that the people of the South cannot afford peace as matters now stand.  Peace, h_ll, with Radical nigger government in the Southern states, with a d__d nigger bureau fastened upon the country, to be retained there by the nigger Senate – no, Sir, we don’t want any such peace and we don’t intend to have it.” [1]

 “But,” I asked, “what remedy do you have to offer?  It seems to me that the people are getting tired of agitation, and then the whole Democratic Party, both North and South, have been demanding that the Radicals give them peace, ever since the end of the war.”

 “My remedy, Sire, is the remedy that the whole Democratic Party would apply.  We cannot afford peace for the very reason that it would be the death of the Democratic Party, and of all our hopes of compensation for slaves and other property taken from us by the thieves whom Lincoln denominated the Union army.  It would leave negro suffrage in the Southern States, would leave those states in the hands of the d__d carpetbaggers and low thieving whites of the South, who pretend to be ‘loyal,’ while it would disenfranchise the good and pure men, the heroes of the war – the men who, above all others, should be rewarded.  The d__d fool Democrats of the North are willing to reward them – expressed that willingness at the New York Convention – and they talk about doing it peacefully, just as though they had all the say in the matter.”

 “Yes, all that may be true,” I said, “but certainly there must be some remedy for all the wrongs that may have grown out of the war, and that remedy, I should think, could be better applied under a peaceable condition of affairs than any other.”

 “There is no remedy in peace for us,” he answered. “Don’t you see if we did, the Radical Senate would prevent us from undoing what the internal rascals have done, and we would be no better off that we are now.  If we succeed, we must set that Senate aside.”

 “But will not the North oppose that, and both parties there insist upon matters remaining just as they are?” I asked.

 “Give us power,” he said, “and what the d__l do I care what the North wants.  They have gratified their wants about long enough without consulting us, and, d__n them, if we ever get power again, we’ll gratify them.”

 “Yes, Sir,” said another one of the party, “and if all the country was like Kentucky they would all have been gratified in hell [2] long ago.  In our country the Yankees got by draft and nigger-stealing about nine-hundred men; but they didn’t convert any of them.  Why, at the election there were but one hundred and thirty votes polled in our county for the Radical ticket, and they all lived down on the river at Big Bone Spring, and the precinct above it.” [3]

“They were rather bold, were they not, that one hundred and thirty?” I asked.

 “They were,” he replied, “but they are all spotted men. Kentucky has some of that class, but they have stayed here just about as long as they will be allowed to.  We intend to purify until the election, and then fumigate afterwards.”

 “And were there no radical votes cast at the precincts on this road?” I asked.

 “Only five between Covington and Crittenden, and they had better have moved from the country than have done it.”

 “Then, gentlemen, you do not seem to think there is much prospect of a speedy settlement of our troubles growing out of the late war,” I remarked.

 “Why, I don’t see how we can settle anything by success in the coming election,” replied Mr. W.  “We cannot and will not consent to take the Southern States, and leave them as the Radicals have now fixed them up.  To do that would be an acknowledgement that they were in the right, and I know our Kentucky people well enough to say for them that they prefer war to making any such concession.  We must undo everything that the Yankees have done; if we do not, we might just as well not go into the election at all; and to do this we may have to fight, but we are ready for that.  We won’t make war on the Stars and Stripes this time.  We will make war on the d__d Radicals, and I think in this the Northern Democracy will aid us.”


 I rode up to the Union house in Florence, got a drink of water, and sat down for a rest in the shade near the bar-room, which is a little building detached from the hotel.  Florence is an historical place, having been the advance post of the rebel army, under Kirby E. Smith, in 1862.  While I sat there I was regaled by an intellectual conversation between a party of women, s to the relative merits and demerits of the “nigger.”

 “A nigger is a nigger,” said one, “I don’t care how much white blood he has in him; and he’s got to keep a nigger’s place while he’s around me.  There’s Mrs. G___ who has a white nigger, an’ it seems to me’s if she treated him just like he was white.”

 “No, she don’t, neither,” replied another, “that nigger eats and stays with the other niggers, if he is white.  For my part I ain’t any use for such, and if I had my way they would not stay round here very long.  Burt some people allus will be fools.  I’d let the lazy things starve, only them as I’d keep to do my housework.  I would.”

“I wish to God they was all dead, the dirt, sassy things,” said another, “I hit old Martha with the tongs the other day, and she made as much fuss about it as if she wasn’t a nigger.”

 Sympathizing with the tender damsels, I mounted my horse and rode out the Burlington Pike, which branches off to the left hand from Florence, running almost westward.  About two miles from Florence I dismounted, took out my note-book and began writing the conversation of the morning.  While thus engaged, an old negro man came by, going toward Florence.

 “Well, uncle,” I asked, “why were you not at work this morning?”

 “Lord bress you, mas’r I’se jist gwine to town an’ right back to work agin.”

 “Well, uncle, you need not be afraid of me; I don’t care whether you work or not; I live in Ohio.  Do you have any Kuklux over here?”

 “Dunno wht dem is, mas’r.”

 “Why, they are the ghosts of dead men who ride out at night to kill darkeys.”

 “Bress God, I never saw dem; fur I nebber goes out at night.  Mas’r ___ tole me dat if I run out at night he make me leab de place shuan, an’ I stays dar.”

 “How much do you get, uncle?”

 “I don’t get nuffin.  Mas’r says he took are ob me when I was a slave and couldn’t take care ob myself, an now he jus keep me for dese clothes and what I eat.”

 Judging from the style of his clothes, they resembled Nasby’s description of the quality of the uniform worn by the Confederate soldiers, “principally of holes, with a few rags hangin’ round’em.”

 “Do you ever think anything of voting?”

 Lord, no, mas’r.  Ole mas’r says when de niggers go to voting he’s gwine in to kill every one ob em.  No, Sir, I don’t want any vote;” and with this the old man trudged on.


 Burlington is the county seat of Boone County, and is about the size of “Nasby’s Confederate X Road,” and I should think very much resembles it.  I hear learned from a gentleman (who, by the way informed me that he had been a consistent rebel, and was one yet, intending to vote for Seymour and Blair. [4] that this country had given nearly a thousand volunteers to the Southern army but mighty few to the Yankees.  Said he:

 “They drafted the country in 1864 for 900 men, and as those who were here had not much chance to get away they would have taken them, but the county bought out.”

 “How did they buy out?” I asked.

 “When the draft was made the county had but little money, but eight good staunch rebel citizens went to the banks in Covington and borrowed $150,000, and loaned it to the county, and with this money our drafted men, who were not absent in the Confederate army, were bought off.”

 “I suppose the people rallied at once and paid back the $150,000?”

 “No, they did not,” he answered, “The county paid back all but $65,000.  Then the war ended and the Democrats carried the State, and the county officers never made any further assessment to pay off the balances of the amount.  About two years ago the Legislature passed a law authorizing the collection of a special tax for the purpose, from all persons who were in favor of buying out of the draft, but the law was hardly passed before nearly every citizen of the county rushed in to file their evidence that they were not in favor of it; and the result is that no such tax has ever been paid, and I don’t think it will, although the parties are now instituting suits against the county for it.”

 “Do you think it ought to be paid?” I asked.

 “Other people can do as they please, but I will never pay one dollar while I can help it.”

 I left this gentleman to find the headquarters of Democracy, the bar-room, where I found about a dozen of the faithful assembled, engaged in a lively discussion of the “political situation.” Conversation lagged upon my entrance; but I revived it at once by inviting the whole party to join me in the general health of all – after which the subject was taken up where it was left off.  Said a young man who seemed to be the recognized leader of the party:

 “Kuklux are a falure unless the organization is perfect, and intended for work.  The society here is nothing – it don’t mean anything, it does nothing.  We must make ourselves felt.  If the people are going to play neutrality cowardice again as they did in 1861, I am not going to move a foot.”

 “Why, you know, somebody must move first, and our Democratic friends in the North expect us to take the initiative, and they will follow us,” said another of the party.

 “D__n the Northern Democrats,” said the first speaker, “didn’t they promise us a thousand men, in 1861, and when we started the fight they didn’t give us a man.  While we were away in the army fighting, these sneaking cowards remained passive, waiting to see which side would win, and then embrace it.  Why, d__n them, ain’t they all the time praising the Yankee soldiers?” 

When the conversation turned upon other matters I left them, mounted my horse, and started back toward Florence and Crittenden.  I spent the night with a wealthy old gentleman, who informed me that he was a wealthy man in 1861 and 1862, and would have remained so up to today had it not been for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

 “How many negroes did you own?” I inquired of him.

 “I only owned nine,” he answered, “and I got part of them in as substitutes, so tht I only lost about $5,000.”

 “Well,” I remarked, “I don’t know whether a five-thousand dollar loss would have changed my convictions or not, but I don’t think it would.”

 “It wasn’t the pecuniary loss that hurt me.  The truth is I had, all my life, been accustomed to have some one call me master, and I can’t get along without it now.  But I have never believed Mr. Lincoln, or his government, had any right to take our negroes from us, either by military proclamation or legislative enactments, and I believe that the abolition of slavery was a violation of law – the taking of private property without compensation, (nothing less than stealing, in fact,) and if I wasn’t satisfied that the Democratic Party, if successful, will restore this property to us, I would be in favor of another fight to-morrow; and I don’t know but that I would anyway.  Why G_d d__n such men as Bramlette and Rousseau; they helped bring us into this condition – urged the abolition of slavery in this State, and carried it out at the points of their bayonets, and now they turn around and try to curry favor with us.  D__n them, they can never be anything in Kentucky, and they need not expect to be.”

 “But, Sir, nearly all the late Union men are with you now,” said I.

 “Yes, we know they are, d__n them, but what use are they to us.  All they are they made out of our misfortunes; they helped old Lincoln and his thieves ruin us, that they might get reputation, power and spoil; and now they fall down at our foot and ask us to forgive them for it, but, thank God, the people of Kentucky know them, and they will always occupy back seats in this State.”

 “It seems to me that the Northern Democracy did the same thing during the war.  What would you do with them if Seymour and Blair are elected?”

 “Do with them,” he replied, “why, d__n them, we would put them in the only position nature qualified them to fill – the position they occupied before the war.  We would put them under the table and feed them on the crumbs and leavings.  We don’t blame them half as much as we do out home-made Yankees.  In the North the Democracy always follows leaders, and those leaders were Southern men.  When the war came they were cut off from their leaders, and either fell under the Radicals or stood still and acquiesced in the action of Lincoln Government.  They are not much to blame, because they hadn’t sense enough to know what to do.”

 “What do you think ought to be done with the Radicals in case a Democratic victory in the coming election?”

 “Sir, they are all traitors to the constitution, and if Mr. Seymour does his duty he will arrest and hang for treason every Radical member of Congress.  When the Radical State Governments are set aside in the Southern States these fellows cannot claim to be their representative; and if they do, they will be arrested as traitors and usurpers, and, I think, justly convicted of treason against the Sate, and hung for it.”

 “And when will peace come, then?” I asked.

 “Just when the South is placed back where she was in 1860, with all her rights restored and her losses compensated.”

 “Do you believe Mr. Seymour will be elected?”

 “As much as I believe that I live.”

Grant County

 I left the old gentleman the next morning and pursued my way toward Williamstown.  On the road, just before reaching Crittenden, I overtook a gentleman on horseback, who informed me that he lived in Grant County.  I found him very reserved upon political subjects, and finally asked him if he had been in the war.  He replied that he had not, and was now glad of it.

 “Did you sympathize with the cause of your country in this great struggle?” I asked.

 “Stranger,” he said, “let me ask you where you live, and where you was during the war.”

 "I live in Ohio, and was in the Union army during the war,” I answered.

 “What side in politics do you favor?”

 “I am a Republican.”

 “And so am I,” said he.   “I was a Union man during the war, and am a Union man to-day.  I am a workingman, and when the war began I could see nothing in rebellion that would induce me to commit treason.  Bu I don’t say this to everybody.”

 “Have the late rebels molested the Union people around where you live?”

 “Not yet,” he answered.  “A good many Democrats were personal friends of Baker, and they voted for him, and that rather saves the Union men here; but if Seymour is elected I hear the Republicans will have to leave Grant County.”

 “Would you have any objection to giving me the names of men who make such threats?”

 “Yes, Sir, I would.  If I should tell any names, and it was found out that I told them, I would leave Kentucky a great deal quicker than I could go out on any of the roads traveled by living men.”

 Crittenden is another “Confederate X Roads” town, and as it was late I pushed on through the town, and Walton, to Williamstown without having any special conversation with anyone.  I observed one thing peculiar.  At every county tavern or drinking place there was assembled quite a large number of young and middle-aged men, who seemed to have nothing to do but drink, chew tobacco and swear at Radicals.

 It was late when I reached Williamstown, and as I did not stay over night there. I had but little time for conversation with the people; nut I saw the town at a glance – in fact, it is not claimed to be the largest place in Kentucky, although the county seat of Grant County.

 Having spent the night in the country with a friend, I returned Wednesday afternoon to Williamstown, hitched my horse and, as usual, sought the largest crowd, which I found assembled near a rum-mill.  The conversation was on horses when I came up; next it turned upon negroes as slaves and freemen.

 “One of our old negroes came back home last night and begged us to take him back,” said a young man of about twenty-two; “but we told him to git.”

 “I don’t think he’s to blame,” said another, “he was coaxed off by Yankees, and didn’t know any better. I would have set him to work, and made him make up lost time.”

 “I wouldn’t,” said the first speaker, “if he was dying of starvation I wouldn’t give him a piece of corn bread.  If he is hungry, let him stay with his Yankee friends; he’s as good as they are.”

 “I agree with you there,” put in a fresh speaker, “I wish I had the power, I would make every d__d Yankee marry a nigger.”

 “If I had my way,” said another, “I would d__d soon get rid of both Yankees and niggers.”

 “Well, just wait until after the November election, Bill, and you can have your way; nut I warn you not to trouble any of our old niggers, for I think we’ll take them back and place a cash value upon them then,” rather hopefully remarked another.

 “Boys,” said an elderly gentleman, “you may have something more to do than hunt up your old negroes then.  If we carry the election, you may prepare to rally round the standard of General Blair.  You will have something else to do besides laying around here doing nothing.  Blair’s election means a fight; we have selected him upon his letter; that letter is a declaration of war if he is elected, and Kentucky will be expected to furnish at last one hundred thousand men.”

 “And she can furnish them, too, without a draft,” replied the first speaker.

 “I am mighty glad to hear of old Thad Stevens’ death,” continued the first speaker; “and if old Brownlow and Benjamin Butler were in hell with him, I could throw up my hat for joy, but, d__d them, they just live on.”

 “Brownlow may wink out yet before he expects to,” said a new arrival, who had only heard the last sentence above; “Senator ___ told a gentleman in my haring that ____ told him at the New-York Convention that he intended to kill Brownlow on sight, and ___ will do whatever he says he will.”

 “I hope he will se him soon, then.”

 In reply to a suggestion that the rebellion was a failure, one said: “But if the Yankees did get most of the territory, I am sure the rebellion was a success in Kentucky; nobody can deny that.”

 “I don’t know how it’s a success,” said another, “with a Yankee nigger bureau fastened upon us, and Yankee soldiers and tax gatherers all over the State.”

 “Well, we have the State officers, and we can keep them, and it was just about as healthy for Yankees in the Confederacy as it is here.”

Back To Florence

 On the way back to Florence I stopped overnight with a farmer.  I found at his house several gentlemen and ladies, evidently visitors.  After tea, I devoted myself to the farmer, and found him a gentleman of intelligence, and a very earnest supporter of the Democratic nominees.  I asked him what his views had been upon the question of succession.

 “They were against it,” he replied.  “The South had no right to attempt to set up an independent government within the United States, and were guilty of a crime in forcibly attempting it.  I was opposed to succession, and as long as there was any government I was in favor of it; but when Lincoln attempted to abolish slavery, to destroy the rights of the States in violation of the constitution, then I saw that neither party were respecting it; that the constitutional government was destroyed, and at once my sympathies and support were given to my friends – the Southern people.  They were in a fight, and I wanted to see them win.”

 “Why, Mr. ____!” ejaculated on of the ladies, “I thought you went to Cincinnati in 1862 and brought out information to General [Kirby] Smith.  I know they gave you a pass as a Union man, but I thought you were with us all the time.”

 “And so I was; but I was always loved the old Constitution, and I love it yet.  What I want now is to get the Government back upon it, and then we are safe.”

 “What course do think is best to pursue to get back upon the constitution?” I asked.

 “Thee is but one course, Sir, and that is pointed out by General Blair in his letter to Mr. Brodhead. These carpet-bag State Governments have been forced upon the Southern people by a revolutionary Congress, without a shadow of law, which leaves their acts void, and they should be set aside, by force, if they won’t voluntarily abdicate, and the old States, as they existed in 1860, started into operation again.”

 “But, then, only a portion of the wrong you charge upon Mr. Lincoln and Congress will be undone.  How about the rest?” I asked.

 “Treat every wrong the same way.  Slavery is not abolished by any law – it was done by force.  Remove that force and the right is revived, and every man owns again the negroes that were taken from him, and has but to take them into his possession.  Mr. Lincoln had the right, under the Constitution, to send an army to suppress the revolution, but that army could do nothing beyond enforcing the general laws of the United States, and seeing that no resistance was offered to their execution.  The States remained intact, and every act done by Mr. Lincoln with his army, beyond the dispersion of the revolutionary army, was unconstitutional and void; was, in fact, a usurpation and a crime, and every soldier in his army was a criminal – a traitor, and deserved punishment with death.  But the wrong was done, and we want a remedy, and we only find it in undoing everything that has been done by the Federal Government since 1861.  Slavery in Kentucky was abolished by such scoundrels as Rousseau and Bramlette, and not by the people of the State.  If we succeed in the contest we will undo their work, too.”

 “But suppose the people of the North should object to such a course, then what?”

 “We would be carrying out the supreme law of the land, and if they attempted resistance it would be treason, and we would soon take that out of them.  We would then have the army and navy.  Grant could be put under arrest if he refused to obey, to the letter, the President’s orders, and if the other Federal Generals refused to obey orders, their places could be supplied with better men from the south, who would obey orders.”

 “And have you no fears that the Senate will stand in the way in that work?” 

“What can the Senate do?  If the negro governments are dispersed, it will vacate the seats of the Senators from those States, and when we have started the old State governments they can send Senators there, and we will have a majority.”

 “But suppose, the Senate won’t admit them to seats?” I queried.

 “The President can settle that.  He can call together the newly elected Senators, and those from the North who take a constitutional view of this question, and they being a majority of the whole, can let the Radicals in or not s they please.”

“This idea seems to be the prevailing one among the Democrats in every place I have visited in this State.  None of them seem to care anything about the platform or principles adopted at New-York; they can only see Frank Blair’s letter, [5] and they all seem determined to urge its practical adoption.

 Upon my return to Covington, next day, I met an ex-Confederate officer recently from Georgia.  He said he had come to Kentucky to find a home for his father and mother, as he regarded it the only free State in the Union, but that he was so much encouraged by what he had heard sine he came in the State, that he thought he would wait until November, in hope that Georgia might too, become free.  I agreed with him in the hope, and left him, to take the afternoon stage from Newport to Alexandria.


 The ride from Newport to Alexandria was a very pleasant one, the stage being well filled with gentlemen and ladies.  I soon got into conversation with an attorney from Newport, who reiterated the ideas advanced by the gentleman with whom I spend the preceding night, with this difference: He believes that succession was a crime, but that those who fought for it had been pardoned and amnestied, by which not only the penalty of the law was stayed, but the crime itself was put away, and the great rebel now stood before the law as innocent of any taint of crime as if no war had occurred.

 I was somewhat astonished to learn from a reliable source, while on this trip that when John [Hunt] Morgan made his escape, or, to use his words, “was bribed out,” he did not cross the river below Cincinnati, as was reported, but above the city, and had passed through Campbell County. [6]  “Murder always will out,” and the lesser crimes too; so we may reasonably hope that time will reveal who the “influential persons” were who were the chief instruments in effecting this bribery.  At Murfreesboro, Tenn., it is well understood, and not denied, that Morgan’s Democratic friends in Ohio and Kentucky paid a large sum of money for his release, and that somebody else did the digging.

 To go further into the details of the different conversations I had with different people, and which I overheard, would only be a repetition of what I have already written.

 The sight of the stage upon which I was to return to Cincinnati was a welcome one, on Saturday morning, and I was soon being whirled over the pike toward “God’s country.”  Seated next to me was an Episcopal clergyman, recently from Virginia.  As we neared Newport I pointed out to the earthworks on the hill and said:

 “Thee are the fortifications we built in 1862 to defend the people of Newport and Covington from their friends.”

 “Yes, and you did it successfully,” he replied; “but if Seymour is elected we will try the thing over again, and perhaps the result will not be so favorable on your side.”

 As a summary of what I saw and heard in Kentucky, I can only say, that if the people over there mean anything at all by their talk, they mean fight, and, in the event of a Democratic victory, will inaugurate it at once.  They seem to be desperate over the loss of slavery and political power in the nation, and they now feel like doing what they did not in 1861, going into the fight as a State as well as individuals.

[1] In post-Civil War America, there are Northern and Southern Democrats, Republicans, and Radical Republicans.   If you need a little more information to keep the players straight, I recommend the Wikipedia article on Reconstruction, and the years after the Civil War.  You can find that by clicking here.

[2] Note that contemporary standards allow the use of the word “hell” when the reference is talking directly about the place, but in paragraph 5, above, when the word is used as an oath, it’s “h__l.” 

[3] The official results show 200, not 130 votes in the 1864 presidential election, but the man’s point is still valid. In 1860, there was one – 1 – vote for Lincoln in Boone County, in 1864 there were no Republican votes at all, and in 1868, there would be 256 Republican votes.  In 1864 and 1868 Boone County had, respectively 2,385 and 2,361 eligible voters, 1263 and 1759 men who voted, and a vote that went 84% and 85% Democratic.

[4] Seymour and Blair were the Northern Democrats’ Presidential ticket in 1868, running against Ulysses S. Grant.

[5] General Frank Blair’s acceptance speech, of receiving the Democrat’s VP nomination is online.  At the New York Times Archive Site, go to Advance search, and select the date July 22, 1868.  Search for Frank Blair.  Blair was born in Lexington, Kentucky.

[6] Yeah, well, highly unlikely.



Originally from the Cincinnati Commercial, these columns were reprinted as a single item in the New York Times of August 27, 1868.

And last but not least, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably curious about how the 1868 election actually turned out.  We’ve got those results for you in a pdf that’s here.