MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES

War Papers


THE SECRET UNION ORGANIZATION IN KENTUCKY IN 1861
By
R.M. Kelly, Late Colonel, Fourth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry
Read October 1889


Transcribed by Timothy H. Downey, Commander, Kentucky Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.
(December 2004)

The successful struggle made by the loyal men of Kentucky to keep the state in the Union was marked by one episode which has not had the attention from historians or annalists which its interest and intrinsic importance merit.

When, about the middle of September, under orders from General A. S. Johnston, General Buckner suddenly advanced and seized Bowling Green, sending forward detachments as far as the Rolling Fork of Salt River, to burn the bridge over that stream, and to gather up the rolling stock of the railroad at Elizabethtown, it was believed in Louisville and at General Anderson's headquarters, then recently established in that city, that his advance was intended to surprise and capture Louisville, an undertaking, which as General Anderson knew better than he did, was not at that moment at all a desperate one. The Union commander had learned from a loyal citizen of Russellville of the contemplated movement the very day it began. He was made sure that it had begun by the non-arrival of the regular passenger train from the south, and the interruption of telegraphic communications. The news soon spread through the city, and created general anxiety and alarm.

There was absolutely no Federal force available for the defense of the city against such a sudden raid. The only armed organization on the ground was the city brigade of home guards, composed of two regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery, well armed and equipped. It was not a part of the state militia, had been raised under a liberal interpretation of a rather vague provision of the city charter for home and defense, was not subject to be ordered out of the city, and was under the supreme control of the mayor. The mayor, John M. Delph, was a staunch Union man, and was supported by a council of like opinions. General Hamilton Pope, an eminent lawyer of the city, then the commander, and the home guards themselves, were the Union men.

On the evening when the "rumor of the foe's advance" had spread through the city, General Pope went to General Anderson's headquarters for news. Anderson told him that the movement was undoubtedly in progress; that it was important to anticipate the enemy in seizing the position of Muldraugh's Hill, but that he did not have a man or a gun at his disposal for the work, which had to be done at once or not at all, and he asked Pope what could be done with the home guards. Pope replied that, as General Anderson knew, the home guard was not subject to any call for military duty outside the city, and that the men composing it were, for the most part, mechanics and others dependent on their daily labor, but that he was confident that if he was authorized to assure them that they would be paid at the same rate as the volunteer forces for the time they were on duty, their patriotism could be relied on to answer his summons in the emergency at hand. As the men were scattered throughout the city at their homes, Anderson desired to know how they could be called together for a movement that night. Pope informed him that the signal for assembling was a certain alarm from the fire bells, and that in a half hour after the signal was sounded the companies would be gathered, fully equipped, at their respective armories. Upon receiving these assurances, General Anderson issued an order calling out the home guards for ten days, and giving them the pay of regularly enlisted men for that period. The signal was sounded, the companies gathered, and at eleven o'clock Pope was able to turn over to General W.T. Sherman, who was to command the expedition, about fifteen hundred men, well equipped for service.

Louisville had long been in close commercial relations with the states in rebellion, and the large majority of the wealthy and influential classes of her citizens were in sympathy with the secession movement. How did it happen, then, that this little Louisville army was ready at Anderson's need, and so willingly turned over to his control? To answer that question is the subject of this paper.

Almost simultaneously with the governor's call for the legislature to meet in extra session, in January, 1861, there was held in Louisville a great meeting of workingmen. The governor was known to be in favor of siding with the seceding states. The status of the legislature elected at the same time that the governor was, was unknown. The governor's call for an extra session was understood to be the beginning of an effort to take the state out of the Union. This meeting of workingmen declared, without qualification, in favor of remaining in the Union, and of sustaining the government. In "the abstract questions dividing politicians," they declared they took no interest. They issued an address to the workingmen of the country, as the class particularly concerned in the preservation of the Union, and proposed to them a national convention and a national organization, and, what was more to the purpose, they organized for political action in the city, independent of the old parties. At a special election called by the governor soon afterward to fill a legislative vacancy in one of the city districts, they made their first show of strength by electing Geo. A. Houghton, who during the three sessions of the legislature held that spring represented faithfully the unconditional Union sentiments of his constituency, and with Thos. H. Clay, the eldest son of Henry Clay, and two others, voted steadily for every proposition looking to active support of the government, and against all the half-way and compromise measures, to which other more politic, and perhaps wiser, Union men gave their consent, during the contest.

When the city elections came on, early in April, the workingmen's party elected their candidates by decisive majorities, and chose a mayor (J. M. Delph) and councilmen who were undoubted friends of the Union.

During the excitement consequent on the fall of fort Sumter, the Governor called the expiring legislature together for the third time in extra session. The last effort to carry the state out of the Union through the machinery of the state government was to be made. The feeling in Louisville, as everywhere else, was intense. Among the politicians, the process of "firing the southern heart" was having its effect. Some men, who had in January made speeches full of expressions of devotion to the Union, were now engaged in raising troops for the Southern Confederacy. Some who, a few months before, were outspoken for adherence to the Union under all circumstances, now began to talk about conditions. Men were uncertain about how their neighbors stood. The dominant elements of society and the dominant local prejudices were all on the side of the Secessionists, who were boisterous and defiant, and who had the nucleus of an organization in the Knights of the Golden Circle, which, however, did not then become very strong, because events moved faster than its plan of organization contemplated. Anonymous notices to leave the city were served on some men of northern birth, who were known as active Unionists.

Out of these conditions of things, and at this time, there sprang into existence the Union Club, a secret organization of Union men, designed primarily to make the steadfast Union men known to each other, and accessible to each other in case of trouble, but resulting in accomplishing much more than that. Its founders builded better than they knew.

It took shape in this way. The tobacco store of Mr. John Homire, a strong Union man, was the gathering place for those who held views similar to his. One evening, shortly after the assembling of the legislature, about a dozen friends had gathered for discussion of the news of the day. Among those present were several who had received notice to leave town. In the course of the conversation, it was brought out that a common acquaintance, who, before that, had been considered fully in accord with them, had given signs of wavering in his opinions. The importance of some plan by which steadfast Union men could know and readily communicate with each other was then suggested, and met immediate acceptance. After a little conversation, it was determined to organize at once a secret club, to which none should be admitted but known and trustworthy Union men. A meeting was appointed for the next night, at the rooms of C. Z. Webster, and John W. Clarke was designated to prepare a simple ritual. Mr. Clarke took with him G. A. Hull, and together they consulted Mr. Geo. D. Prentice, editor of the 'Journal," and with his assistance and advice the ritual was ready the next night, substantially in form as it remained, and as reproduced further along in this paper.

The next night, seventeen persons assembled at Webster's photograph gallery, and the club was formally organized, calling itself simply "The Union Club." No National flag had been furnished, as required by the ritual, and as a substitute, one of the tickets used at the April election by the Workingman's party, on which there was a colored print of the flag, was taken. As each man, in taking the oath, had to put his hand to the flag, and as all wanted to come in at once, the flag-adorned ticket was placed on a small round table, and by crowding closely, and reaching over shoulders, each was able to put an index finger on the representation of the National ensign. The simplicity of the proceedings did not subtract from their solemnity. The founders of the new club were all men of mature years, most of them staid family men. The spirit in which they signed their constitution was as earnest and devoted as that of the signers of the "Solemn League and Covenant." The names of these founders are worthy of record. According to the memory of several actors still living, they were as follows: John W. Clarke, the first president, John Homire, R. L. Post, G. A. Hull, C. C. Hull, R. E. Hull, J. P. Hull, C. Z. Webster, H. G. S. Whipple, Thos. A. Morgan, W. B. Hegan, F. H. Hegan, Robert Ayars, Henry Hart, Lafayette Leonard, Beall Gantt, and Thos. Pomeroy - seventeen in all.

Each member of the club was a recruiting officer, and at the next meeting the membership was largely increased. The organization met so perfectly the needs of the time and place, that in a few weeks its membership in Louisville numbered six thousand. There was no longer a question as to which side had the physical power in the city.

Promptly, as it grew strong, and as the advantages of the organization were seen, delegates were sent to each congressional district to organize auxiliary clubs, and the plan was communicated to trusty men in Tennessee. The best work of the club was, however, done at its birthplace. Just as the club had become strong, the organization of the home guards of Louisville began. The various clubs (for they were made numerous, so as to reach every part of the city conveniently) were recruiting agencies for the companies, and infallible guides in selecting trustworthy material. It was owing more to the Union Club than to any other agency, that the Louisville brigade of home guards was ready and willing to answer the call of General Anderson.

Though, as has been stated above, the large majority of the wealthy, and socially the most influential, classes of the population of the city were in sympathy with the secession movement, not all of them were. The organization of the Union Club, however, was due to the same element that composed the workingman's party, and gave it its strength. The originators of the Union Club were not the rich merchants, or professional men, or politicians, but clerks, book-keepers, small tradesmen, master printers, tobacconists, and small manufacturers. The club started among the "plain people," and got its strength from them. It was because the plain people were for the Union that the effort to carry the state into rebellion failed.

It may be noted here that the first commander of the Louisville Home Guards was Lovell H. Rousseau, who resigned as soon as the legislature adjourned, in order to raise a brigade of volunteers; the next was James Speed, afterward Mr. Lincoln's attorney-general; the next Lieut.-Col. Geo. P. Jouett, killed at Perryville; and the last was Hamilton Pope. The adjutant-general of the brigade was John W. Barr, now United States Judge for the Kentucky District. Many of its officers afterward served with distinction in the volunteer service, and the young men from its ranks enlisted promptly in the first Kentucky regiments called to the field.

When the Union legislature, called in August, assembled in the fall, and took prompt measures to put the administration of state affairs in the hands of friends of the Union, need of the Union Club was no longer felt, and it gradually faded out of existence. Its records are scattered or destroyed, and the only copy of its ritual, known to be left, is one preserved by the first president of the club, a faithful transcript of which here follows. It has never before been published:

    RITUAL

    The President will call the Club to order, after which the members present will be examined in the password.

    The Club will then be opened with the following prayer by the Vice-President: O, Eternal God! Supreme Ruler, Governor, and Architect of the Universe! We humbly beseech Thee to protect the people of these United States in general, and especially the members of this organization. Wilt Thou be pleased to direct and prosper all our consultations to the advancement of Thy glory, the good of our country, the safety, honor, and welfare of thy people; and may all things be ordered and settled by the Legislature and Executive branches of our Government on the best and surest foundations, so that peace and happiness, truth and justice, may be established among us for all generations. Wilt Thou be pleased to guide and direct us as Thou didst our fathers during the Revolution: with the strength of Thine almighty arm Thou didst uphold and sustain them through all their trials, and at last didst crown them with victory. May Charity and Brotherly Love cement us; may we be unified, with our principles founded upon the teachings of Thy Holy Word; and may Thy Good Spirit guide, strengthen, and comfort us, now and forever, Amen.

    All candidates for Membership in this club will be required to answer to the following Questions, to be propounded by the Marshal before initiation:

      1. Are you opposed to Secession or Disunion?
      2. Do you acknowledge that your first and highest allegiance is due to the Government of the United States of America?
      3. Are you willing to take such an oath of allegiance to the United States of America?
      4. Are you willing to pledge yourself to resist, to the extent of your power, all attempts to subvert or overthrow the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Kentucky?
      5. Are you willing to pledge your sympathy and encouragement, and so far as practicable, your aid and support to the Government in suppressing the present rebellion and maintaining the Constitution of the Union?
      6. Are you a member of an order known as the "Knights of the Golden Circle," or of any similar organization hostile to the Government or to the peace and honor of the people of the United States?
      7. Are you willing to pledge your word of honor as a man that you will not improperly divulge any of the signs, passwords, or secrets that may be here imparted to you?

    Should the Candidate answer affirmatively, the Marshal, after reporting to the President, will conduct them into the Club Room, and present them to the President, who shall then address the Candidates as follows:

    GENTLEMEN: We rejoice that you have thus voluntarily come forward to unite yourself with us. The cause we advocate is that of our country; banded together for the purpose of perpetuating the liberties for which our fathers fought, we have sworn to uphold and protect them.

    It is a strange and sad necessity which impels American citizens to band themselves together to sustain the Constitution and the Union; but the Government under which we live is threatened with destruction. Washington enjoined upon us that "the unity of the Government that constitutes us one people is a main pillar in the edifice of our real independence, the support of our tranquility at home, our peace abroad, of our safety, of our prosperity, of that very liberty which we so highly prize." He charges that "we should properly estimate the immense value of our National Union to our collective and individual happiness; that we should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming ourselves to think and speak of it as the palladium of our political safety and prosperity; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned."

    He tell us again, that "to the efficiency and permanency of the Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts is an adequate substitute."

    It is to sustain this Government we are banded together; and for this purpose, you are now required to take a solemn obligation.

    Place your left hand on the National Flag, and raise your right hand toward heaven, repeating after me - where I pronounce my name, you pronounce yours.

    I, _________ , here in the presence of God and these witnesses, do solemnly swear, without any mental reservation whatsoever, that I will stand by the Union, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the laws; that I will, to the extent of my power, defend and protect this flag, from the assaults of all enemies, and resist all attempts to subvert or overthrow the Constitution of the United States of America, or the Constitution of Kentucky.

    The members will all respond.- To this we pledge ourselves.

    I furthermore solemnly affirm, that I will never introduce the name of any person, to become a member of this organization, until I am fully satisfied that he is an unconditional Union man; and that I will never make known, to ant person or persons, except those duly authorized to receive them, any of the signs, passwords, or proceedings of this club, under such penalty, as the club to which I belong may award.

    The president will then deliver the following address to the candidates:

    The oath which you have now taken on your own free will and accord cannot rest lightly upon your conscience; neither can it be violated without leaving the stain of perjury upon your soul. Our country is now in disorder and confusion; scenes of commotion and contest are threatened in our midst; and perhaps my come; but we can not, we must not, we dare not omit to do that which, in our judgment, the safety of the Union requires. Not regardless of consequences, we must yet meet consequences; whatever the hazard which surrounds the discharge of public duty, it must yet be discharged. Let us, then, shun no responsibility justly devolving upon us here or elsewhere in attempting to maintain the Union. Let us cheerfully partake its fortunes and its fate. Let us be ready to perform our appropriate part, whenever and wherever the occasion may call us, and take our chances among those upon whom the blows may fall first and fall thickest.

    Above all, remember the words of our own immortal Clay: "If Kentucky to-morrow unfurls the banner of resistance, I never will fight under that banner. I owe a paramount allegiance to the whole Union - subordinate one to my own state."

    Remember too, the words of earnest truth, uttered by another patriot and statesman of Kentucky, Joseph Holt: "The men who, in our midst, give aid and comfort to the enemy, either by furnishing them secret information, or by advocating their cause, or by striving to sow dissensions among ourselves, or by insidiously dissuading loyal men from entering the military service, are more vitally the foes of our country than if they were in the army of the Confederate states."

    Be faithful, then, to your country, for your interests are indissolubly connected with hers; be faithful to these your brethren, for your life and theirs may be involved in this contest; be faithful to posterity, for the blessings you have enjoyed in this government are but held in trust for them. Be faithful and true.

    Response by all the members. - We will.

    The president will then present the constitution and oath to the candidates for their signatures.

    In order that members of different clubs might recognize each other as such, a pin, fashioned like a scarf-pin, with a circular face, on which were the Union shield and the letters U.C., was to be worn under the lapel of the coat. An apparent casual question, in the answer to which the words "You see" were introduced, and a casual fingering of the lapel of one another's overcoat, made the recognition certain.

An organization which did such good work, and was animated by so patriotic a spirit, deserves mention in history.

Visit the Homepages of the
Ohio Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

and

Kentucky Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

________________________________

Source:
Kelly, R.M. 1889. The Secret Union Organization in Kentucky in 1861, pp 278 - 291. IN Sketches of War History, 1861-1865. Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Ohio, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Published by the Ohio Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Robert Clarke and Company, Cincinnati, Ohio.Volume III.

Copyright © 2004 Timothy H. Downey, Kentucky Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States


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