The Civil War in Primary Resources: An Exhibition by the Special Collections Library


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Equally divided by Union and Confederate loyalties, Kentucky exemplified “brother against brother” conflict. Despite this border state’s desire to remain neutral, both the Union and Confederate armies wanted its support. Bowling Green was particularly valuable because the Barren River, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, and its hilly terrain made it a prime defensive location.

To prevent Kentucky from supporting the enemy, the armies initially respected its neutrality. However, on September 3, 1861 Confederate General Leonidas Polk invaded Columbus, KY, turning the state’s legislature to embrace the Union. Still, the state remained divided. Two weeks later, General Simon Bolivar Buckner entered Bowling Green with several thousand troops to establish it as the Confederate capitol of Kentucky. They built fortifications throughout the area, including Fort Lytle located behind Gordon Wilson Hall.

In early 1862, Union capture of Forts Henry and Donelson forced Confederates to surrender Kentucky. Troops withdrew from Bowling Green on February 14, burning so many bridges and buildings that an advancing Union soldier remarked, “That big black plume of smoke out there is Bowling Green!” Union General Ormsby Mitchel occupied the town, and it stayed in Union hands for the remainder of the war.

Bowling Green's Civil War Discovery Trail Audio Tour


Bowling Green, Kentucky, Union Army, Confederate Army, U.S. Civil War 1861-1865


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