The Confederates captured their first Union capital today — in Abraham Lincoln’s birth state.
Frankfort, Ky., was a coveted prize for the South. But even greater rewards were in view of two Confederate armies racing north toward the Ohio River: the targets of Louisville and Cincinnati.
A Cincinnati newspaper sounded the alarm. “The people of Cincinnati must prepare to defend themselves. There is no mistake about it this time. We are very seriously menaced.”
Into this dire situation arrived Union Gen. Lew Wallace. Eighteen years before he authored “Ben Hur,” Wallace was writing orders to save Cincinnati. He closed all businesses, shut down the barrooms and impressed the local inhabitants into fortification construction.
“None are exempt, from the millionaires to the beggars,” reported a correspondent. “This, of course, causes some little grumbling among the upper classes.” But to no avail. “Their threats and growls do no good; go they must. ... They who perhaps never worked before, must work now.”
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the barrooms were busy.
“The first evil which the government and the people must unite to check at once is the absenteeism of officers,” declared the New York Post.
Officers in the all-volunteer army often considered themselves privileged, and many came from privilege. Most were dedicated to the war effort, but resisted or ignored the discipline necessary in their martial roles.
The laxness was epidemic.
“One man out of every three you meet wears shoulder straps, in the corridors, public rooms and billiard saloons.”
Who would respond on the eve of another Confederate invasion?
Quotes extracted from Dennis E. Frye’s newest book, “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril.” Frye’s other recent release is “Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town during the Civil War.”