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In his work The Civil War and Readjustment in Kentucky, noted historian E. Merton Coulter quipped that Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the war. While that is undoubtedly true for some parts of the Bluegrass State, it is not true for the Jackson Purchase region. Surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers and sharing a land border with the state of Tennessee, this small eight-county region was a staunchly pro-Confederate part of Kentucky from the beginning of the secession crisis. Indeed, it was often referred to as the “South Carolina of Kentucky.”
Until recently, the region has been largely understudied. However, the trend toward Civil War regional studies has produced three works in the last few years. The first came in 2008 with Patricia Ann Hoskins’s dissertation from Auburn University, “‘Te First Is with the South’: The Civil War, Reconstruction, and Memory in the Jackson Purchase Region of Kentucky.” Following in 2014 was Dan Lee’s The Civil War in the Jackson Purchase, 1861–1862: The Pro-Confederate Struggle and Defeat in Southwest Kentucky, published by McFarland Press. Finally, Berry Craig’s Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase was also published in 2014. All the works are similar in many ways, and all add to our understanding of the region during the Civil War. However, Professor Craig’s stands out among the three.
Craig begins by exploring why the majority of the white citizens in the region held Confederate sympathies. Ultimately, it appears the geographical isolation of the region from the rest of Kentucky actually tied the Jackson Purchase more to the Deep South through river and [End Page 75] rail transportation networks and subsequent economic connections. Moreover, the region’s Democratic political tendencies put it at odds with the Whiggish position of much of the rest of Kentucky. Craig demonstrates the political, religious, and social links to the rest of the South that made the white citizens of the Purchase vehemently opposed to remaining in the Union.
Craig uses diaries, letters, and especially newspapers to chronicle the war in the Purchase. The result is a solidly researched monograph that presents a cogent overview of the region during the Civil War years. However, an examination of the census records even for a sample of the region’s Confederate and Unionist populations would have produced a more distinct and detailed analysis of relative wealth, slaveholding patterns, age, and even residential patterns. In other studies of this type, census information has highlighted the differences (especially economic) between secessionists and Unionists from the same region.
While the primary focus of Craig’s work is the political, economic, and social divisions that separated the pro-Confederates of the Jackson Purchase from their Unionist neighbors and the rest of the state as a whole, thankfully he does not omit military events. Indeed, he keeps the focus of military operations specifically on the area of the Purchase itself and does not stray beyond its borders. The accounts of guerrilla warfare and the 1864 raid by Confederate major general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry on Paducah are covered.
One can quibble that to understand fully the Civil War era in the Purchase region, more detail should be included on various facets such as the region’s small Unionist population and their struggles, the slave population of the Purchase and their resistance, the recruitment of blacks into the Federal army, or the effects of postwar conditions on the ex-Confederates, former slaves, and Unionists. Craig does touch on many of these areas, but he does not develop them thoroughly. This is regrettable because the story of the region’s Unionists and slaves holds much that is rich and insightful and could, indeed, help explain the differences between the secessionists and Unionists more fully. However, the author chose to focus primarily on the region’s [End Page 76] Confederates, and with this group, he does a nice job. Overall, this is a solid work presented by a knowledgeable...