Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kentucky in Print: Basil Wilson Duke, CSA : the Right Man in the Right Place

I'm a real bookworm, and I read a lot of books about Kentucky, both fiction and non-fiction. "Basil Duke" is the most interesting and well-written Kentucky book I've read in a long, long while - not just for War Between the States buffs. Duke, as everyone with any sense knows, was John Hunt Morgan's right-hand-man during the war, even taking over his command after his death. So a big chunk of this book is the familiar story of Morgan's Raiders, which has been told in many other excellent books, notably including Ramage's classic "Rebel Raider" and Gorin's recent ”Morgan is Coming!”. But, although Matthews does a great job of covering the war years, the real strength of this book comes in the last chapters which deal with Duke's post-war career in Kentucky politics and business. I have never read a more concise and clear explanation of the oft-quoted old saw "Kentucky joined the Confederacy after the war was over". Through Duke's experiences Matthews really takes you on a tour of the Kentucky of the late 1800s and shows the reasons many loyal Unionist Kentuckians found themselves regretting their position during the war. I'll give you a hint, it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with being treated like an occupied enemy territory.