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Basil Wilson Duke, CSA

The Right Man in the Right Place

Gary Matthews

Publication Year: 2005

By the early twentieth century, Basil Wilson Duke had established himself as one of Kentucky’s most popular storytellers, but unlike many other talented raconteurs, Duke was not merely a man of words. In Basil Wilson Duke, CSA, the first full-length biography of this distinguished American, Gary Robert Matthews offers keen insight into the challenges Duke faced before, during, and after the strife of the Civil War. As first lieutenant of General John Hunt Morgan’s legendary band of Confederate raiders, Duke became Morgan’s most trusted advisor and an integral contributor to his dramatic tactical successes. Duke was twice wounded in battle and was captured during a raid in Ohio in 1863. Held captive for over a year, Duke rejoined Morgan’s cavalry in August 1864, only days before Morgan (who was Duke’s brother-in-law) met his demise in Greeneville, Tennessee. Promoted to brigadier general and appointed commander of Morgan’s men, he helped convince Jefferson Davis of the futility of continued resistance at the close of the war and was assigned to the force escorting Davis in his escape. Duke’s life of action and achievement, however, did not end with the war. He wrote A History of Morgan’s Cavalry, preserving for posterity the experiences of his fellow warriors, and covered for the Louisville Courier-Journal an 1875 horserace that would eventually be known as the first Kentucky Derby. He built a reputation as a skilled historical writer, and his interests led him to help found the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. Duke also applied his talents to public and political life. He opened a law office and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky House, where he served until 1870. Then applying his legal expertise and political connections at the state and national levels, Duke represented the powerful L&N Railroad as the company’s chief lobbyist in the aftermath of the war and during the emotionally charged era of Reconstruction. Gary Robert Matthews’s comprehensive study of the life of Basil Wilson Duke allows a great soldier and statesman to step out of the shadows of the past.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. vii-viii

Maps and Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Gary Matthews contributes new information and significant insights in this first biography of famous Confederate general Basil W. Duke, General John Hunt Morgan’s brother-in-law, closest friend, and second in command. Morgan kept no diary, and Duke’s A History of Morgan’s Cavalry is the most comprehensive ...

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pp. xv-xvi

first learned of Basil Wilson Duke in 1975 when a rare-book dealer offered me a copy of A History of Morgan’s Cavalry. A few years later, I met an old gentleman in Lexington, Kentucky, who, as a child, knew Duke in his last years. He told me many stories about Duke, some of which were true, and all of which captivated my interest. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

In writing this book, I have been fortunate to have the assistance of people who were, not only knowledgeable, but also very interested in the subject matter of my endeavor. Foremost, I want to acknowledge the invaluable direction of Mike Courtney of Lexington, Kentucky, who foresaw a need for this book. ...

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1. The Right Man in the Right Place

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pp. 1-6

THE EARLY MORNING HOURS OF July 19, 1863, at Buffington, Ohio, were foggy and hot as twenty-six-year-old Colonel Basil Wilson Duke and hundreds of other young Kentucky and Tennessee cavalrymen were in the midst of fighting one of the most impressive rearguard actions of the Civil War. ...

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2. The Bluegrass

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pp. 7-19

BY LATE MAY, SUMMER HAS come to the Bluegrass, and it was hardly different in 1837. Gray limestone fences defined the boundaries of verdant pastures, while majestic pin oaks spread their limbs from one side of dusty country lanes to the other. Horses and cattle meandered across a landscape more akin to that of England ...

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3. Missouri

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pp. 20-35

IN 1858, FEW AMERICAN CITIES could claim to be as exciting and full of opportunity as St. Louis. Situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the city had become the purveyor of America’s western movement, creating a period of unparalleled economic and commercial growth. ...

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4. On the Green River

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pp. 36-48

WITH THE END OF KENTUCKY’S NEUTRALITY, Union troops quickly occupied the key cities of Louisville, Frankfort, and Lexington. Almost immediately, the official attitude hardened, and the state’s Southern sympathizers found themselves risking arrest and detainment. ...

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5. Shiloh, the End of Innocence

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pp. 49-64

GENERAL HENRY W. HALLECK and his generals were far from idle as the Southern army trudged south during the first weeks of March. On March 15, 1862, the heavyset Halleck received news that he had been appointed commander of the western armies. This appointment encouraged Halleck to implement his ambitious plans ...

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6. Partners in Command

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pp. 65-85

WHEN MORGAN’S BRIGADE rode north to Kentucky, the political situation in the state was far from stabilized. There was a growing segment of the population that was fast becoming discontented with the Lincoln administration. This was a direct result of the military’s occupation policies, ...

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7. All the Kentuckians Wanted to Ride

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pp. 86-103

THE LATE SUMMER AND EARLY FALL of 1862 was, perhaps, the only time that the Confederacy’s sun shined bright over Kentucky. For six weeks, Edmund Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg had the opportunity to solidify a strategy that could have resulted in serious consequences for the North. ...

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8. December Battles

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pp. 104-121

ON NOVEMBER 24, 1862, Duke and the Second Kentucky were ordered to Fayetteville, Tennessee, for a much-needed rest. Not only had Duke’s regiment participated in a major Kentucky raid and the Bragg–Kirby Smith invasion, but it had also been very active on its return to Tennessee. ...

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9. We Found Pies Hot from the Oven

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pp. 122-140

THE WOUND THAT DUKE RECEIVED in the fight at the Rolling Fork River crossing was fairly serious, and it was not until January 8, 1863, that he was able to write Tommie about the recent campaign. To diffuse her concerns, he attempted to minimize the seriousness of his injury. ...

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10. The Boys Were Sorry That Duke Was Captured

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pp. 141-159

ON THE AFTERNOON OF JULY 16, the raiders crossed the Scioto River and burned the bridge before they entered the small town of Piketon. It was at Piketon, Duke wrote in 1891, that he received the news of the surrender of Vicksburg and Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg. ...

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11. A Convivial Evening in Philadelphia

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pp. 160-174

EXCEPT FOR TWO COMPANIES, Breckinridge’s Ninth Kentucky did not participate in the Ohio-Indiana raid. The regiment was attached to Wheeler’s cavalry corps and, at the end of December 1863, was with General Joseph Johnston’s army in northern Georgia. ...

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12. The Glory and Chivalry Seemed Gone

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pp. 175-192

THE MILITARY AND POLITICAL SITUATION had changed dramatically since Duke’s capture at Buffington. Militarily, the South was hanging on by a shoestring, and even its strongest advocates realized that victory was not likely to be obtained on the battlefield. Astute Southerners and their sympathizers in the North ...

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13. We Looked at Each Other in Amazement

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pp. 193-207

THE BEGINNING OF APRIL 1865 found Duke and his troops once again under the command of General John Echols, who, on March 30, 1865, had replaced Jubal Early as the commander of the Department of Southwestern Virginia, Early having replaced Breckinridge, who in January had been summoned to Richmond ...

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14. To Perpetuate His Fame

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pp. 208-220

THE WAR AND THE RESULTING vicissitudes for the South affected the remainder of Duke’s life. When the war started, Duke was young, only twenty-three years old, with no prior military experience and very little experience with life in general. When it was over, he was a general who commanded respect and admiration ...

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15. My Prospects in That Line Were Not Brilliant

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pp. 221-233

A FACTOR CONTRIBUTING TO Louisville’s emergence as a major postwar commercial trade center was the virtual monopoly that the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad had on north–south rail traffic, a monopoly that permitted Louisville to dominate the Southern markets. ...

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16. Salmagundi

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pp. 234-247

THE PANIC OF 1873 caused a significant amount of personal financial stress throughout Kentucky, with the farmers in the western part of the state suffering the most from the economic downturn. When the Panic struck, tobacco prices fell to an all-time low, resulting in the devaluation of farmland ...

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17. A Distinctly Southern Magazine

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pp. 248-261

ALMOST CONTEMPORANEOUS WITH the beginning of Duke’s new career with the railroad was the beginning of his involvement with a new magazine called the Southern Bivouac. The Southern Bivouac’s antecedents can be traced back to the evening of February 7, 1879, when Duke and forty-seven other ex-Confederates ...

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18. Politics and Panic

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pp. 262-278

WHEN MILTON SMITH BECAME the president of the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad, he was pessimistic about the future of railroads, believing that government was “ultimately going to suck out the lifeblood of the industry through regulation.” Nonetheless, he had no intention of giving in ...

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19. At the Turn of the Century

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pp. 279-293

BY 1900, ALL BUT THE MOST recalcitrant of conservatives were coming back to the Democratic Party, a return that can be attributed largely to the strength of William Jennings Bryan as a candidate. Although he had lost the 1896 election, Bryan had come so close to victory, particularly in Kentucky, ...

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20. The Disappointments of Life Should Seem Trivial

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pp. 294-305

IN APRIL 1904, A CREDITOR obtained a judgment against the sixty-seven-year-old Duke, precipitating a crisis in his financial affairs. The genesis of Duke’s money problems may never be known, but certainly the bankruptcy of the Southern Magazine and the liquidation of the Columbia Finance Building and Loan Association, ...


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pp. 306-332


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pp. 333-346


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pp. 347-358

E-ISBN-13: 9780813171777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813123752

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2005