Sentenced to prison, social connections set James Montgomery free.

January 1862 was a time of great turmoil in Kentucky.

The Civil War was still in its infancy — approximately nine months old — but wartime violence in the Bluegrass State was on the rise. Skirmishes and small-scale engagements erupted as northern and southern soldiers fought to control the commonwealth. On January 19, more than 800 men were killed and wounded at the Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. That early Union victory boosted northerners’ morale and helped push the Confederates out of the state.

Image for post
Image for post
The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. Library of Congress.

That month, Kentucky’s future remained uncertain. Yet…


Image for post
Image for post
The “Bloody Tragedy” at the 1858 Tennessee State Fair made headlines across the United States.

In 1858, the Nashville Patriot predicted that the upcoming Tennessee State Fair would be “the most extensive and interesting that has ever been held in Tennessee.” While it was a memorable occasion, it was compelling for all the wrong reasons. Instead of showcasing the Volunteer State’s agrarian successes, the fair emphasized what happened when Southern honor collided with an uprooted family tree. A bloody fight — involving walking sticks, pistols, and a feuding Nashville family — left several men maimed and dead and was condemned for being “one of the most horrid affrays which has ever occurred in our city.”


Image for post
Image for post
Civil War reenactment on the Perryville battlefield. Photo by the author.

Confederate monuments are in the crosshairs.

Officials in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and beyond are calling for the removal of memorials to rebels and their cause.

In Kentucky, authorities evicted the Jefferson Davis statue from the capitol rotunda. Members of Congress have also considered striking rebel names from military bases and might remove 11 statues from the U.S. Capitol.

This news evokes a familiar chorus from those who oppose removing Confederate monuments. They claim that the elimination of these memorials from public spaces is “erasing history.”

As the former executive director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association, an organization that…


Mayor of Louisville met a tragic end

Image for post
Image for post
Former Louisville Mayor Thomas Howell Crawford met a tragic end.

When Thomas Howell Crawford’s basement exploded, it was said to have shaken the earth for hundreds of yards.

Friends, neighbors, and residents of nearby Louisville, Kentucky, were shocked when Crawford died from the blast. In addition to being a prominent business owner, Crawford had been mayor of Louisville during the early stages of the Civil War.

Although Crawford earned some renown while serving as mayor, it was his mother, Jane Todd Crawford, who made the history books.

Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Jane had moved to Kentucky with her family in 1805.

Four…


Image for post
Image for post
D. C. Neighbors, toward the end of World War II. Courtesy of the author.

For some of us, our resolve is cracking.

Weeks spent at home avoiding the coronavirus has been tiring. We’re depressed. Our resilience is fading.

To bolster my patience, I remember the Americans who endured the Great Depression and the shortages and horrors of the Second World War.

Specifically, I think about my wife’s paternal grandfather and how he spent the first twenty years of his life.

D. C. Neighbors grew up in Butler County, Kentucky, during the height of the Great Depression. In rolling fields close to the Green River, his family scratched out a hard living with neither electricity…


Image for post
Image for post
Trinity Episcopal Church, Danville, Kentucky. Courtesy Centre College.

When sickness sweeps through a community, institutions suffer.

Because of COVID-19, schools and universities are empty. Businesses and restaurants are shuttered. Hospitals face shortages. Churches have closed.

When looking at our history, the story of one Kentucky church reveals that institutions can thrive after enduring tragedy and illnesses. It also reminds us that historic buildings can teach important lessons.

Built in 1830, Trinity Episcopal Church stands on Main Street in downtown Danville, Kentucky. Located across from the county courthouse, its sharp steeple and bright red door make it a visible community landmark.

Calamity soon struck the congregation. In 1833, cholera…


Image for post
Image for post
Louvain, Belgium, in ruins. Library of Congress.

Victor Bogaert was one of six American citizens knighted by the King of Belgium during the First World War. He was lucky to have received this honor, for months earlier German troops nearly executed him for being a French spy.

Born in Belgium on March 7, 1859, Bogaert spent much of his life serving others. In the 1870s, he went to the French Congo and Belgian territory in Africa to disrupt the slave trade. Bogaert eventually moved to America, and, in 1883, settled in Lexington, Kentucky. His decision to make Lexington his home was completely pragmatic; he later said that…


African Americans squared off against Kentucky slave hunters in 1852

Image for post
Image for post
Two escaped slaves wearing ragged clothes. Library of Congress.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published a novel that altered the nation’s moral compass.

Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which illustrated the tragedy of slavery to readers unfamiliar with the institution, bolstered the fight for abolition and weakened support for the Fugitive Slave Act.

Made law two years earlier as part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act required runaway slaves to be returned to their owners, even when they had fled to free soil. It also required U.S. marshals to assist in the return of escaped men, women…


Image for post
Image for post
Louisville City Hall, Library of Congress.

We have all learned that pandemics create economic losses, breaks in the supply chain and shortages.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, worry over hospitals having too few ventilators has contributed to school, library and restaurant closings, the cancellation of public events, mass telecommuting and calls for “social distancing.”

Although some may question the need to disrupt our lives over the coronavirus pandemic, we should take a lesson from a shortage that occurred more than a century ago.

In October 1918, during the height of the worldwide “Spanish flu” pandemic, Louisville and surrounding communities faced a lack of coffins for burying…


Image for post
Image for post
The Duel. Library of Congress.

If you think political animosity is bad now, look back at Indiana history.

In February 1861, as Southern states seceded from the Union, two Hoosier legislators nearly dueled after they insulted one another on the floor of the statehouse.

Representative Gideon C. Moody, a Republican from Jasper County, made some derogatory remarks about Indiana Gov. Ashbel P. Willard, a Democrat who had died in 1860.

Another legislator, Democrat Horace Heffren, a lawyer from Salem, defended Willard’s memory. …

Stuart W. Sanders

Writes about history. Author of four books, including the new “Murder on the Ohio Belle,” published by the University Press of Kentucky.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store