When anti-Confederate feelings ran high after Charlottesville, central Kentucky’s attention focused on two Confederate monuments standing prominently in downtown Lexington.
A Congressional representative, a United States senator, James Buchanan’s vice president, and a Confederate general and secretary of war, John Cabell Breckinridge is practically unknown in Maine. He was a Bluegrass big shot in his time, however.
John Hunt Morgan and his cavalrymen ran amuck in Union-held central Kentucky in summer ’62 and thumped Home Guards at Corydon, Indiana on July 9, 1863. Soon captured, Morgan escaped, raided occasionally in Kentucky and elsewhere, and caught a fatal dose of Union lead poisoning in Tennessee on September 4, 1864.
Morgan ultimately accomplished little other than spur 20th-century construction of Civil War wayside markers around central Kentucky, especially at Cynthiana. Here in Maine, only die-hard Civil War buffs know much about the guy.
Southern sympathizers later erected monuments to Breckinridge and Morgan in front of the Fayette County Courthouse on Main Street in Lexington. A sculptor posed Breckinridge as if he spoke in the U.S. Senate. Cast high in the saddle, Morgan rode a Kentucky thoroughbred.
The statues stood through Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights era, and Lexington’s transformation from quiet Southern city to Fayette County-consuming behemoth. Then came Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.
Confederate monuments suddenly became statues non grata. Passions flared in Lexington, where Breckinridge and Morgan stood on land once used for slave auctions. Rather than vandalize or topple the Confederate statues, residents asked the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council to remove them — sort of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Mayor James Gray and the councilors concurred unanimously, and rather than engaging in ISIS-style monument busting, city officials sought a new home for the statues. The privately owned, non-profit Lexington Cemetery at 833 West Main Street (aka “Leestown Road” or “Leestown Pike”) offered to take them.
After all, Breckinridge and Morgan are buried in the cemetery.
Working overnight on Tuesday, October 17 (these things usually occur in darkness), workers from two private contractors (Duncan Machinery and Prometheus Bronze Foundry) removed and tarped the statues and hauled ’em off to storage.
On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, city employees set the statues on new, smaller bases provided by a Vermont quarry. The city placed solar-powered security cameras (and the appropriate warning signs) to monitor the statues, deemed “controversial” by the Lexington Herald-Leader, a McClatchy daily that OCD’s on University of Kentucky athletics.
Having close family ties to Lexington, we visited the city this past spring, when blossoming trees briefly erased memories of Maine’s unending cold temps and rain. Breckenridge and Morgan never set foot or horse hoof in Maine, but I wanted to see if this particular statue relocation had worked.
It did, magnificently.
Similar to Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor, the Lexington Cemetery resembles a well-landscaped public park, albeit with grave stones and monuments. Floral gardens range across the terrain, and old trees cast their deep shade over the paved roads. Songbirds cheerily talk and trill, and a brick wall dampens some traffic noise along adjacent West Main Street.
Backdropped by dark evergreens, spring-budded hardwoods, and pink-blossomed dogwoods, the Breckinridge statue stands beside the family plot and near the general’s grave. I do not know what turmoil engulfed Breckinridge in life, but he lies amidst landscaped beauty in death.
Right across the nearby cemetery road from Breckinridge stands a small, oblong metal sign pointing visitors toward the “Grave of John Hunt Morgan.” The men are not buried that far apart. Morgan lies alongside his brother, Thomas, dead on July 5, 1863.
City officials placed Morgan and horse at the Confederate cemetery, its centerpiece a time- and dirt-begrimed stone cross set on a rock-formed pedestal. A Confederate banner drapes over the cross tree, and a broken flag staff leans against the cross.
Confederate grave stones encircle the monument, and nearby stands a Confederate infantryman atop a lichen-overrun stone pedestal. His upper body, head, and rifle needing a serious cleaning, the soldier gazes toward inner Lexington …
… and the Lexington National Cemetery, rows and rows of white markers aligned across a slight slope rising toward West Main Street.
I walked amidst the Union boys — some white, some black, their stones all clean compared to most of the Johnnies’ across the way — and paid my respects. Somewhere among them could lie a Maine boy who moved west before the war and joined a Midwest regiment.
The Breckinridge and Morgan statues stand amidst peace and quiet, hopefully safe from the vandalistic revisionism seeking to erase monuments down South and the truth from American history books.
The Civil War happened; the monuments are inert stone or metal, threatening no one physically today.
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.