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  • “If Just One of the Boats Had Remained”:The 1862 Battle of Augusta and Its Aftermath

It is often said that Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the war. Although many loyal Kentuckians’ turn against the Union came earlier—in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was promulgated, or 1864, when African Americans were recruited as soldiers—the saying certainly holds true for the writing of history after the war. Many white Kentuckians came to see their Unionism as a mistake and, therefore, bought into the Lost Cause version of history.1 One of those Kentuckians, Basil W. Duke, had fought in the war as one of John Hunt Morgan’s raiders. After the war, he became a prominent figure of the Lost Cause in Kentucky, writing, for example, History of Morgan’s Cavalry in 1867. He was also the owner and a frequent contributor to the Confederate apologist magazine, the Southern Bivouac, in the mid-1880s. In 1886, Duke wrote an article for the Bivouac about the Confederate invasion of [End Page 41] Kentucky in the summer of 1862. Among the battles mentioned in the article was the Battle of Augusta, which occurred on September 27, 1862. As would be expected, Duke emphasized the role of his men while saying little about the Union Home Guard under Joshua Taylor Bradford. Likewise, he provided minimal background, said little about the defense, and nothing about the aftermath in Augusta. Twentieth-century articles on the battle relied far too much on Duke’s accounts. Primary source material that could have surmounted the disparity has been noticeably absent from the articles, addresses, and discussions about the battle.

Thus, for far too long, our understanding of this small Civil War engagement in Bracken County has come from information supplied by the victorious commander, Basil W. Duke.2 In order to remedy that deficiency, this article examines the story from the Unionist perspective, which gives us an important example of how a town tried to defend itself from the ravages of Confederate marauders. Diaries, newspaper accounts, service records, and official records tell about the months, weeks, and days that led up to the fight. Likewise, court-martial records from the National Archives provide heretofore-unseen testimony of twenty-three witnesses who add a great deal of information about the fight and the tragic aftermath. Many of the primary sources involve Colonel Bradford and other Unionist defenders of this small Ohio River town. Although Kentucky “turned Confederate” after the war, it was a loyal State during the war, and by examining the Unionist Home Guard in small towns like Augusta, we can have a better understanding of how the war affected local communities throughout the commonwealth.

Duke was a native of nearby Scott County, Kentucky, who had obtained a law degree from Transylvania University before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1858. In early January 1861, this resolute States’ rights advocate helped organize the pro-secession Minute Men, [End Page 42] who engaged in activities that led to his indictment for arson and treason. Rather than stand trial in St. Louis, Duke returned to Kentucky and married Henrietta H. Morgan, the sister of John Hunt Morgan, commander of a company of State Guard troops with pronounced southern sympathies. In October 1861, Morgan merged those men into a Confederate cavalry brigade, and Duke was elected by his unit to serve as a lieutenant.3

During the Union advance against Chattanooga in July 1862, the twenty-four-year-old Duke and thirty-seven-year-old Morgan harassed the Fourth Division of the Army of the Ohio in middle Tennessee. Dr. Joshua Taylor Bradford, a major in the Medical Corps, had served with that division at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, but during the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, he returned home on sick leave. In early August, this forty-five-year-old native of Augusta, Kentucky, was looking to rejoin his brigade in Tennessee, but on August 12, that became impossible when Morgan’s men blew up the important rail connection at Gallatin, Tennessee. One week later, the newly installed governor of Kentucky, James F. Robinson, appointed Bradford captain of the Bracken County Home Guard and...


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