By James Clell Neace & Edgar Porter Harned - 2000
A Confederate governor of Kentucky? Yes, 'tis true; there were two. Kentucky Confederates maintained a shadowy state government throughout the Civil War. At one time they briefly installed a Confederate governor in the state capital at Frankfort.
With the gathering of Civil War clouds, Kentuckians were divided in sentiment between pro-Confederates, pro-Unionists, and staunch neutralists. No other state was split into factions to this extent. Each of these three splinter groups played an active role in the events leading up to Kentucky's entry into the war.
The Unionists eventually prevailed. They were helped along by native-son Abraham Lincoln who, sensing military defeat if Kentucky joined the Confederacy, made a special effort to keep Kentucky within the fold.
Nevertheless, Southern sentiment was strong in Kentucky. A meeting of pro-Confederate delegates was held at Russellville, Kentucky on November 18, 1861 for the purpose of "severing forever our connection with the Federal Government." Led by George W. Johnson (1811-1862), a lawyer from Georgetown, Kentucky, the convention formed a provisional government with ten councilmen and provided for other officials to be selected later.
The delegates unanimously chose George W. Johnson for governor and selected Bowling Green as the capital of Confederate Kentucky. At that time the army of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was encamped at Bowling Green and so offered protection for Governor Johnson's provisional government.
But armies must move and maneuver. Such was the case for General Johnston in February 1862. With Union armies victorious at Mill Springs, and on the verge of victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, Johnston was in imminent danger of being outflanked on both his right and his left. To escape what he conceived as a trap, Johnston vacated Bowling Green and moved his army to Tennessee. This move left Governor Johnson's government unprotected at Bowling Green. Johnson and the council had to withdraw and flee to the Confederate Army in Tennessee.
In Tennessee, Johnson's provisional government set up its headquarters in army tents and traveled with Kentucky units of the Confederate Army. The principal function of this shadow government was to negotiate for provisions for Kentucky soldiers who had joined the Southerners.
In April 1862, General Johnston surprised and temporarily routed Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh. One unlikely participant in this fierce fight was Governor Johnson, a civilian with a crippled arm. He declared, "I am determined to share the dangers of battle with these boys." During the morning's battle, the Governor had a horse shot out from under him. A replacement horse was offered but he declined.
Now on a roll, the Governor went that very evening and had himself sworn into the Confederate army as a private. He said, "I will take a good night's rest and be ready for the fight tomorrow." But his luck changed next day. Grant's army had been joined during the night by another large Union army and together they prevailed. During this battle the Governor was shot twice, once in the thigh and once in the abdomen.
Unable to move and unattended, the Governor lay until the following day when he was miraculously spotted by an old acquaintance, Union General Alexander McCook, who happened to be riding by. McCook had attended the Democratic National Convention of 1860 with Johnson. Aided by Kentucky friends of Johnson, McCook took the stricken governor to a U.S. transport where he received marked medical attention and kindness. Though dying, the Governor wrote a number of farewell messages before he passed away. His remains were packed in salt and shipped to Georgetown, where he was buried with an impressive funeral.
The gubernatorial vacancy left by the death of Johnson was promptly filled by vote of the council, who selected Richard Hawes (1797-1877), a prominent Paris, Kentucky, lawyer who had actively opposed Kentucky's entrance into the war. The new governor had belonged to a Kentucky faction that advocated armed neutrality. They proposed a strong militia to defend Kentucky against invasion by either Union or Confederate troops. When the war did come to Kentucky, Hawes chose to join the Confederate cause. Hawes had four sons who became officers in the Confederate army.
Richard Hawes, son of Richard and Clara (Walker) Hawes, was born in Virginia on February 6, 1797. The family moved to Kentucky in November 1810, where young Richard attended school in Jessamine County. Later he may have studied law at Transylvania. He was admitted to the bar in 1818. He first practiced law in Lexington. Finding Lexington overcrowded with lawyers, he moved to Winchester in 1824. There, in addition to his legal practice, he "moon-lighted" as co-owner of a factory for making hemp rope and burlap bags.
As was the fashion for Kentucky lawyers at that time, Hawes promptly became preoccupied with partisan politics. He was a staunch supporter of Henry Clay and Clay's Whig Party. Clay was probably influential in Hawes' decision to seek public office. Hawes served as Bourbon County Judge for several terms; was a Kentucky legislator for three terms, starting in 1828; and was a U.S. congressman for two terms, starting in 1837.
Hawes played an important role in the promotion of state's rights. In May 1861, the Kentucky legislature was about evenly divided on the state's rights controversy. In an attempt to break the deadlock, the legislature selected six men, three from each faction, to form a committee and work things out in an effort to secure an amicable agreement. No agreement was reached and Kentucky continued on as a neutral state. Hawes and his associates stepped-up their efforts to promote state's rights as an equitable means for securing peace. But the war clouds kept gathering.
By September 1861, Kentucky's neutrality had vanished. That fall Hawes, now over 64 years of age, decided to get into the fight. He mounted his horse and rode to Johnson County in Eastern Kentucky where he showed up one day at the camp of Confederate General Humphrey Marshall at Hager Hill and offered his services. Hawes asked for and got a major's commission and was assigned a brigade commissary in Humphrey's command.
Hawes' assigned task was to obtain supplies for Marshall's army. This was difficult, since money was in short supply and surplus agricultural products were almost non-existent in Eastern Kentucky. Even so, Hawes did a commendable job. He purchased 1,000 fat hogs, some beef cattle, and a number of wagons and teams for transporting supplies. Even so, Hawes' extra-curricular activities as a highly vocal arm-chair strategist got him into a hassle with massive General Marshall, who was soon to make a "strategic withdrawal" at Hager Hill.
Hawes studied the fertile valleys and steep hills of the Big Sandy Valley. Here was an easily defended bastion, he thought. He soon developed strong views on the importance of holding this region at all costs. Neglecting to go through the chain of command, Hawes dispatched his views directly to the Secretary of War (whom he may have known personally). This breech of army discipline did not sit well with Marshall. He accepted Hawes' request for resignation. While waiting for a replacement, Hawes came down with typhoid fever.
While convalescing in May 1862, Hawes heard of his appointment as governor by the council. He rushed to Tennessee to join the exiled government, then traveling with Kentucky troops in the Army of Tennessee.
Arriving there, he found his fellow Kentuckians excited over the rumor that a Confederate invasion of Kentucky was imminent. This chance to return home was a morale booster for the exiled Kentuckians. The council, in an effort to rush things along, dispatched Governor Hawes to Richmond, Virginia to sell the idea of a Kentucky invasion to President Jefferson Davis and to obtain needed funding for the expenses of Kentuckians fighting for the South. Davis was markedly non-committal on both issues.
The war rolled on and September 1862 found the Confederate armies of Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith on the march in Kentucky. Kirby's army "liberated" Lexington on September 18th. Bragg had brought along wagons loaded with 20,000 weapons with which to arm the expected hordes of Kentucky volunteers who would flock to his banner. To Bragg's consternation, these weapons got no takers and were not removed from the wagons.
Frustrated, Bragg decided that conscription of the reluctant Kentuckians was his only option for getting the manpower he desired. He became obsessed with the idea of the immediate installation of Hawes' provisional government, so a conscription act could be rushed through the legislature. Two of Bragg's fellow officers, Generals Kirby Smith and Simon B. Buckner, pleaded for Bragg to abandon this half-baked scheme and focus his attention on the large Union armies known to be in Kentucky. No luck! Bragg was adamant; he wanted conscripts without delay. He made plans for the immediate inauguration of Hawes at Frankfort. To sell Hawes on the idea, he assured him that Frankfort was now in Confederate hands, and with a few more good men he could liberate the rest of Kentucky.
Hawes and his growing entourage joined Bragg for a train ride to Frankfort on October 3, 1862. Arriving, they found that the Unionist government had fled. The inauguration got under way the next morning. Kirby Smith led a large cavalry escort for Governor Hawes, the council, and other dignitaries to the State Capitol for an elaborate installation ceremony.
The principal speakers at the ceremony were General Humphrey Marshall, General Bragg. and Governor Hawes. Each assured the assembled throng that deliverance was at hand. The transcribed inaugural address Hawes delivered at Frankfort has been saved by his family. It occupies six typed pages where Hawes recounts the history of his provisional government; lists grievances of Southerners against the Federal government; and proposes means for restoring justice.
With the inauguration completed, the guests retired to the dining room. At 1:30 p.m., while everyone was enjoying a sumptuous dinner, Bragg handed General Polk a note which read: "Enemy in heavy force advancing on us only 12 miles out." This shocking news spread quickly and pandemonium broke loose at the crowded tables. In short order, Union shells began bursting in Frankfort and a hasty evacuation was underway.
Kentucky Confederates were angered by Bragg's duplicity and breach of trust. They lambasted him for foisting such a hair-brained scheme on a trusting Governor Hawes. General Basal Duke openly criticized Bragg for, "the public humiliation he had forced upon Hawes, one of the first men of Kentucky...a man of unblemished integrity...."
Hawes and other members of the provisional government slipped quietly out of town that afternoon and, still trying to retain some semblance of a state government, returned to Tennessee. In the ensuing war years, Hawes traveled widely, always seeking support for his government. He sometimes conferred with Confederate officials, including President Davis, but as the war progressed he found less and less interest in his provisional government. Hawes always put up a bold front, maintaining that "a large majority of Kentuckians are Confederates."
Came peace in 1865. Hawes cheerfully gave up his gubernatorial aspirations and began to rebuild his life. He gave top priority to the "building of a home for Mama." He was referring to his wife, Henrietta, who became homeless when the family home was commandeered for use as a hospital, then burned to the ground. The four boys in the family all went to war on the Confederate side-only three boys came back. With the family torn apart by the war, and their home gone, Henrietta and the two daughters in the family faced hardships.
At Paris, Hawes soon resumed his law practice and began restoring his war-damaged property. Well received at Paris, Hawes returned to active participation in politics right up until his death on May 25, 1877. He died in office as Bourbon County Judge. His funeral at Paris was the largest and most elaborate ever held there.
The authors are grateful to Helen Hawes Hudgins of Franklin, Tennessee, for providing the enclosed photo of the original family painting of Richard Hawes, and sharing some information on him, including his inaugural address at Frankfort.
References: (1) James C. Klotter, editor, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Winter, 1981, Frankfort, Kentucky, and (2) Helen Hawes Hudgins, The Richard Hawes Family of Kentucky, (1986)