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  • "Disturbers of the Peace":The Kidnapping of John D. Hale and the Long Civil War in Kentucky
  • Kenneth W. Noe (bio)

Conventional wisdom aside, the Civil War did not end at Appomattox. Set-piece fighting continued well into May 1865 as the Confederacy collapsed. The war's last traditional battle, an ironic Confederate victory in Texas, happened over a month after Robert E. Lee's surrender. The crew of the C. S. S. Shenandoah did not lower her colors until they slipped into Liverpool on a dark November night. More recently, scholars have begun to redefine the parameters of the war more broadly, extending its termination much farther than any prospective last surrender. Echoing the slightly older model of a "long Reconstruction" that lasted well beyond 1877 to the end of the century, some historians now posit a "long Civil War" that outlasted the Confederacy by several years and involved the insurgent violence of Reconstruction. The Confederacy really did produce a long guerrilla war after all, one that aimed toward restoring local white rule rather than creating a separate nation. In one influential recent book, historian Gregory Downs reminds us that Congress maintained its war powers and legally continued on a war footing until early 1871. Reconstruction, he asserts, was simply the military occupation phase of a continuing struggle. During that time, an increasingly hamstrung army tried to maintain peace and protect the new rights of the freed people while simultaneously engaged in an unsuccessful counterinsurgency. In that sense, Downs concludes, the period after the war is [End Page 267] comparable to what the nation recently experienced in Iraq long after the quick end of conventional warfare and the fall of Saddam Hussein.1

The "long Civil War" concept applies to Kentucky as well, even though the commonwealth never really seceded or experienced legal Reconstruction. A small and otherwise forgotten story, taken largely from the papers of Governor Thomas Bramlette as digitized for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK), illuminates most of these elements.2 Five months after Appomattox, in September 1865, a "mob" of "returned rebels" and sympathetic neighbors kidnapped a controversial Unionist off the streets of Harrodsburg. They did so in broad daylight, with the complicity of local authorities. Although the lynch mob eventually released Colonel John D. Hale, he seethed nonetheless. The next day, he threatened one of his assailants with his gun. That man and a local judge demanded Hale's arrest. Hale in turn sought protection from the local Federal garrison, an outnumbered contingent of the Fifth U.S. Colored Cavalry. Their young commanding officer curtly refused to surrender Hale because, as he explained, Hale's enemies were traitors to the Union. Angry threats to kill the black soldiers and the white officer followed. Accounts of the ugly incident, so indicative of the war's still open wounds in Mercer County, soon landed on Governor Bramlette's desk. That in turn led to a brief but intense civil-military conflict with army headquarters in Louisville.

To really understand what happened in Harrodsburg that September day, one must begin five years earlier with the obscure man at the center of the incident. With so many puzzle pieces missing, [End Page 268] only a rough outline is possible. In 1860, John D. Hale was an unremarkable twenty-one-year-old living near the Mercer County community of Cornishville, eight miles west of Harrodsburg on the road to Perryville. Raised by a widowed mother—his father died in 1853—Hale was married with a two-year-old child. Although he listed his profession as "merchant," his youth, lack of any real estate holdings, and relatively small personal property holdings—a net worth of only $400—suggest that at best he was just starting out in trade. Little more is known about Hale until August 1862, when he turned up in Henry County, near the Indiana border, with other Mercer County Unionists. Perhaps he was part of the throng fleeing Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith's invasion that August. Whatever brought him there, he joined Company I of the Federal Ninth Kentucky Cavalry as a third lieutenant, later rising to brevet second lieutenant. The Ninth...


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