Even in historical eras remembered for great heroism and selflessness, crime has remained a constant figure of societies. In fact, the brutal, local, chaotic war upon a society that was released in Kentucky during the Civil War era may have led to a significant uptick in criminal activity.
Courts were overflowing with cases, local justice systems were overwhelmed, and the governor became a last lifeline for many Kentuckians. Over half of each governor's wartime correspondence dealt with pardon requests and appeals to remit (reduce) portions of fines and prison sentences. Both Kentuckians who were victimized and those who had committed illegal acts because of the hard choices the war forced on them turned to the governor for aid.
The following documents show the range of request sent to the Civil War governors.
Primary SourcesMurder of Dr. Norwood:
- ROBERT GLASS TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- ALEX H. MAJOR TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- L. W. TRAFTON TO BERIAH MAGOFFIN
- F. A. CANNON ET AL., FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS REWARD!
Petitions to the Governor:
- R. F. Baird and J. Hobson Price to Beriah Magoffin
- Mary Ann Burns to James F. Robinson
- Nicholas Simon to Thomas E. Bramlette
Big Picture Questions
- How did crime change over the course of the war?
- Were Governors more willing to pardon, remit, or grant a respite? Why or why not?
- Do you think race and gender played a role in the decisions handed down by the governor? Explain your reasoning.
- MURDER!- As Governor would you issue a Warrant for Jim Brown? Why or Why not? (Use a T-Chart to write down your conclusions)
- Judge and Jury- Examine the facts of each petition, determine what the petition is requesting, and then decide if you agree or disagree with the governor.
- Amy Louise Wood, and University of Mississippi. Center for the Study of Southern Culture. 2011. Violence. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, V. 19. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- “Irregular Violence and Trauma in Civil War Kentucky.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society116, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 146-292.