Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review - "Presidents, Battles, and Must-See Civil War Destinations: Exploring a Kentucky Divided" by Ludwick & Hess

[Presidents, Battles, and Must-See Civil War Destinations: Exploring a Kentucky Divided by Cameron M. Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess (Indiana University Press, 2019). Softcover, photographs, links, select bibliography. Pages main/total:xi,63/104. ISBN:978-0-253-03896-8. $16]

The authors of three road trip guides exploring their state's history, its famous bourbons, and delicious foodways, Cameron Ludwick and Blair Thomas Hess's fourth collaboration is Presidents, Battles, and Must-See Civil War Destinations: Exploring a Kentucky Divided. Not a step-by-step touring manual on the level of those containing extensive historical orientation, elaborate sets of directions, or comprehensive collections of interpretive stops, their book is more of an introductory-level idea guide.

Arranged into three chapters—"Presidents," "Battles," and "Kentucky War Stories"— the book invites readers to consider a range of persons and places related to the Bluegrass State's involvement in the American Civil War. The first chapter visits the birthplace sites and local influences of two opposing presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The battle section looks at sites of Civil War armed conflict in the state and includes in its coverage Columbus, Sacramento, Munfordville, Camp Wildcat, Mill Springs, Ivy Mountain, Middle Creek, Perryville, and places associated with John Hunt Morgan's raids. Background information is generally limited to just a few paragraphs, but the wide geographical spread is nice to encounter as well as the text's mix of large and small battles, both famous and obscure. The final chapter adds more context for the secession period and some information about the state's wartime governors (including the exiled Confederate ones). Some state landmarks, such as Fort Boonsboro, are briefly discussed as are the lives of a handful of prominent individuals (ex. William Wells Brown and Cassius Clay) whose stories provide new readers with human-interest entryways into the state's complex relationship with slavery.

In each section, the authors offer useful tips in their "If You Go" sidebars for visitors. These offer advice in the areas of general trip logistics, behavioral expectations when attending certain events, how to take advantage of existing tour resources, and more. The main text is only 63 pages, plus a large collection of unpaginated color photo galleries, so the entire volume can be easily read in a single sitting. Additional tour-specific details for most of the locations covered can be found by visiting the websites listed at the back of the book.

As a border slave state that remained in the Union but also embraced its Confederate heritage during the postwar period, Kentucky has a Civil War history more complicated than most. In-depth examination of existing controversies over memorials and other aspects of the state's relationship with the Confederate part of its past is clearly beyond the scope of the book, but the issues are mentioned.

In terms of complaints, there are a few historical errors scattered about and the authors do in their "Battle of Columbus" section slyly appropriate for Kentucky the Missouri battle of Belmont (though, to be fair, the fortress on the bluffs did play a lesser role in the battle). The volume might also have benefited by inclusion of a state driving map showing the location of all the places mentioned in the text.

Expert history travelers already have extensive tools available at their finger tips, but reading Presidents, Battles, and Must-See Civil War Destinations should be a useful initial step for those planning their first family trip through Kentucky's Civil War backroads.

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