As Buckner’s term on the bench of Common Pleas continued in the late 1870s, Lexington and the Bluegrass region recovered much of the prosperity that the war and its aftermath had temporarily derailed. And rails, indeed, were the engine by which that Bluegrass prosperity was restored. Since as early as 1866, Lexington and Louisville had found themselves locked in a struggle to attract railroad companies and the prosperity that they offered. Louisville, of course, had the immense advantage of size, its own Ohio River port, and the legendary Louisville and Nashville Railroad connection to Nashville, and Lexington looked doomed to remain the junior partner in the state. Still, Buckner and his fellow Lexingtonians did not concede defeat. Connecting themselves with Cincinnati, Lexington’s commercial leaders—Buckner’s law partner W.C.P. Breckinridge and his cousin, John C. Breckinridge, the former Confederate General and Secretary of War now returned from postwar exile, widely acknowledged chiefs among them—hoped to spread east, into the materials-rich counties which everyone since Jonathan Swift had known hid riches beneath the mountains. Buckner, of course, had recognized this as Lexington’s growth area as early as 1865 when he billed the Red River Iron Works as a promising oil field as well as a proven iron producing plot, and, of course, growing up in Winchester through which all of the material products of Estill, Montgomery, and Bath counties—mined, processed, and hauled in part or in whole by enslaved labor—travelled on their way to market in Lexington, Buckner recognized the money to be made by wealthy, landed Bluegrass investors by extracting the mineral wealth of the counties beyond the line where the rolling pastures became knobby. Such diversified capital ventures were second nature to Garrards, Clays, Breckinridges, Jacksons, and Martins before the war, and as soon as they could recover from the misfortunes of war their interests, naturally, drew them back eastward.[1]

As the states of the former Confederacy tried to remember their part in the “forgotten history of Southern Whiggery” as they struggled to rebuild their shattered postwar and post-slavery economies, Kentucky was ready to welcome them back into the fold. Kentuckians like Buckner, of course, remembered all too well when that legacy of southern Whiggish political moderation and national support for both economic ventures and the institution of slavery was forgotten, when Democratic Secessionism had plunged the country into, to their minds, pointless and ruinous war. But that was past now. Just as white Kentuckians, Blue and Gray, had pitched their lot in together to retain what they could of their racial democracy in the face of black pressure for citizenship rights, as fellow “masters without slaves” they would join their former Confederate fellow southerners in the effort to build a New South.[2]

During the furiously and violently partisan years of the late 1860s and early 1870s, virtually the only thing Lexington Democrats and Republicans could agree on was the need to extend the city’s web of rail networks further south and east. Lexington and the central Bluegrass counties surrounding it had operated within the market sphere of Cincinnati for Buckner’s lifetime. The advertisements in the Winchester National Union for the Kentucky Central, running from Lexington to Covington and Maysville, and the vast Baltimore & Ohio network with which it intersected on the north bank of the Ohio evidenced the northward flow of the Bluegrass’s livestock, hemp, and hogs. But with the massive military contracts that had sustained Cincinnati during the war years drying up, the Queen City and its Bluegrass allies were keen to expand their share of the reopening southern markets. With the powerful L&N in control of the western half of the state, Cincinnati’s plans to push its rail connections towards the Cumberland Gap and Chattanooga were music to the ears of local Bluegrass boosters keen to open up the mineral economies of the mountains.[3] Buckner and his friends were no exception. In 1867 he joined a group of leading citizens from Clark, Bourbon, and Madison counties to build track that would link the agricultural products of their counties to Lexington markets and encourage the county seat towns of Winchester, Paris, and Richmond to be the launching points for capitalistic adventure into the mountains. Both Buckner and his father were enlisted in the scheme, along with Aylett’s old courthouse ally Theodore Kolhaas and Buckner’s legislative comrade Harrison Thompson. Old Richard Hawes, who had long ago operated the ropewalk with Buckner’s grandfather, returned from his self-imposed exile as Confederate Governor of Kentucky to rally supporters from Bourbon County to the cause of the Paris, Winchester, Richmond, and East Tennessee Railroad Company.[4]

The fact that not an inch of track was ever laid from all their efforts was hardly discouraging. It was only the beginning, along with dozens of other similar charters, of the railroad building fever that would sweep—and divide—the state in the war’s aftermath. In 1870, at the same time as white fears in Lexington were focused on the frightening advent of black suffrage in the state, the trade war between Cincinnati and Louisville reached a boiling point. Showing the power of the L&N to dominate the southern trade, Louisville began charging extra handling duties to Cincinnati—and, therefore, Lexington—freight headed to Nashville and points south; what freight it did allow to pass through was subject to arbitrary delays that could add weeks to its transit time. The L&N even chartered a new railroad bridge across the Ohio, forcing upriver steam traffic through the Portland Canal, where it would run into similar markups and delays that Bluegrass and Cincinnati freight found on land.[5] With the Bluegrass, according to Thomas L. Connelly, “already suffering from the decline of its major crop, hemp” following the collapse of slavery and the beginnings of a transition from cord to wire ships rigging and cotton baling, the region’s livestock trade with the deep South made less profitable from the interference of Louisville’s “commercial regency,” and the nascent eastern Kentucky coal and iron industries facing fierce competition from the Louisville-dominated Western Kentucky coal fields, Central and Eastern Kentucky were becoming as economically desperate as Cincinnati. In their zeal to squeeze out the Cincinnati competition, “Louisville had inadvertently created another power bloc” that would challenge their own.[6]

A massive fight in the Legislature during the 1870 session over Cincinnati’s plan to run a line south from Lexington to Somerset and on, eventually, to Chattanooga—a line named the Cincinnati Southern Railroad—was one issue on which both the Republicans and Democrats in Lexington and counties east could agree on. Even as Buckner’s Democracy battled the Goodloes for control of Lexington on the stump and in the streets, they both agreed about the benefits of the Cincinnati Southern line for their city. But the regional implications were more interesting, still. The old Whig counties of the central Bluegrass, what Connelly termed the “old remnants of plantation aristocracy at Frankfort and Lexington,” joined with the “hill counties of Southeast Kentucky, traditionally against internal improvements,” which “held mass meetings not only to back the road but to subscribe to bond issues.” Of course, the shaky alliance in the interests of saving Central Kentucky commerce from the “greedy arms” of Louisville, which would “grasp and draw into its den the best and choicest trade of the state,” was one in the interests of material success only.[7] As the violent confrontations that Buckner and his fellow Democratic leaders led in the streets of Lexington and nighttime raids on black schools and farmhouses across the Bluegrass showed, agreement on economic policy for the region did not evidence accord on issues of citizenship, justice, and education for all Kentuckians. In fact, the agreement on the railroad issue between Bluegrass Republicans and Democrats during the early 1870s just gave speakers and newspaper editors more time and page space to concentrate their energies on the politics of race.

Those same politics of race left Buckner, Breckinridge, and the other Bluegrass Democrats with decidedly different intentions for this new rail route from those cherished by local Republicans. They both hoped to use the Cincinnati Southern to benefit their constituencies and expand their electoral returns. Republicans, white and black, hoped that further modernization of both agriculture and industry would bring Kentucky closer to the free labor ideal cherished by their fellow partisans in the North and, consequently, closer to a Republican majority in the state. They preached what Mark Summers has termed a “Gospel of Prosperity” that would redeem the sinful South and restore it to communion with a northern, free labor, Republican elect.[8] Democrats, on the other hand, envisioned the prosperity brought along the new line as a means to restore the antebellum economic preeminence of Central Kentucky, reinvigorating the slumping hemp and livestock economies which would, they hoped, help restore the antebellum social order that those agro-industrial economies had shaped. Buckner, Breckinridge, and their allies viewed the railroad issue from the perspective of the white Bluegrass landowners they represented and with whom they were interconnected and, as in Buckner’s case, intermarried. It was these landowners whose profits on exported rope, bagging, horses, and cattle had been harmed the most by Louisville’s commercial interference and whose scale of production would benefit most from greater freedom to transport and market goods in other states. The rejuvenated agricultural economy would draw impoverished black men and women back to the countryside from their large concentrations in the region’s cities and towns, dispersing their organizing and voting power, limiting their access to education, and making them more vulnerable to violent intimidation. Further, as the Bluegrass agricultural economy regained steam, those same planters could finally have enough capital on hand to begin serious investment in extractive industries in the mountainous counties to the east in the mold of Helen’s father, Dr. Samuel D. Martin, and many other prewar landed Bluegrass capitalists on a larger scale. They could, if all went to plan, curb the power of the black Republicans in the cities and make inroads into the white Republican strongholds in the mountains.

When the Louisville partisans initially killed the Cincinnati Southern bill in Frankfort, the Bluegrass was horrified. The Cynthiana Democrat scoffed that “So far as this part of the State is concerned, Louisville might be removed from the map tomorrow without the disturbance of trade to the amount of the dollar and without…the loss of much good will….Cincinnati has as many Kentuckians, and friends of Kentuckians, among her people as has Louisville, the little snob.” Danville merchants hauled some freight overland to connect with the Kentucky Central rather than send products over a L&N line, and one Lexingtonian noted that Louisville salesmen “might as well go to Africa after orders” as to come into the Bluegrass.[9] The Central Kentuckians were not the only side to invoke Africa in the discussion, one Louisville partisan charged that Cincinnati looked only to “secure a strip of Kentucky territory eighty feet wide” upon which “she would settle all the negroes she can procure from this State and other States, and with them she will control the policy of Kentucky….Kentuckians! beware!”[10] In the context of the fits white Lexingtonians had given themselves over the growing black population and the Fifteenth Amendment in their town, it was not a bad strategy to try; in fact, it shows the degree to which the racial politics of Lexington and Louisville were in accord despite their economic policy differences. But given the vision that Buckner, Breckinridge, and their fellow Bluegrass Democrats had for their new southern city such fears were not likely to change minds about the railroad.

After the bill again failed to clear the Louisville political blockade in the General Assembly, Central Kentucky appealed to higher powers. “It was a strange happening,” concludes E. Merton Coulter, “when Kentuckians were found evoking the National power against their own state government” as they looked to Congress to settle the issue and charter the road between Cincinnati and Chattanooga as a matter of protecting interstate commerce. Given the extreme states rights rhetoric to which Buckner and his compatriots had turned in the wake of emancipation, the change was startling indeed. But, of course, the economic nationalism that had found such eloquent expression in Henry Clay and had played no small part in convincing Buckner and other Kentucky slavemasters to remain loyal to the government in 1861 can not be forgotten either. It was not “strange” at all. Besides, Bluegrass Kentuckians were not alone in their appeals to Washington for help. Tennessee and Georgia each sent multiple delegations to Congress to lobby for the new southern line. In Coulter’s words, these Kentuckians, Tennesseans, and Georgians had found themselves “able to forget for a time [their] hatred of Federal interference in state affairs,” but, of course rather than forgetting their states rights rhetoric, their support for the Cincinnati Southern showed the convenient flexibility of such arguments. Southern masters—now New South boosters—had always played the federal government both ways.[11] Kentucky and other slave states had howled at violations of national authority when free states disobeyed or nullified the fugitive slave laws while jealously guarding their sovereignty to make slavery policy and, crucially, to set the rules and timetable for any potential future emancipation within their state borders. The glad acceptance of federal power when it suited their economic needs only highlights how important the politics of race—in the service of which the language of states rights was only a tool, not a guiding ideology—were to southern state governments, Frankfort included.

Congressional support indeed came but it was ineffective. Kentucky’s senators were split on the issue, though both of them resided in Bluegrass counties that would benefit by the charter. Lexington’s James B. Beck, naturally, supported the efforts to secure right of way for the road, while Bourbon County’s cantankerous elder statesman and old Buckner family friend, Garrett Davis, could never vote in favor of the measure as long as the Louisville papers kept screaming about a loss of sovereignty. The senator gladly deployed what Coulter termed “his old tactics of obstruction” which he had reliably trotted out previously to protest confiscation, emancipation, black recruitment, and the three postwar amendments.[12] Upon closer analysis, though, Davis’s objections were not to the exercise of federal authority at all, but rather the fear of the exercise of Ohio authority on Kentucky. “Let the mastery over my gallant State be still held by the United States and its Congress, under the Constitution,” he pleaded, echoing the same devotion to Whiggish nationalism that he had evidenced since before the war. Because the Cincinnati Southern was owned by the city of Cincinnati and had required a special dispensation from the Ohio legislature to be chartered, the true threat, to Davis, lay in having Kentucky “transferred to Ohio and her corporation.”[13]

The bill had gained no ground in Frankfort by the time the August 1871 elections came around. In the Democratic convention, Barren Countian Preston H. Leslie won the gubernatorial nomination as the champion of the L&N over the Bluegrass candidate Richard Hawes, the longtime Buckner family ally and advocate of new rail connections for the central counties since he had returned from his wartime exile. The Bluegrass faction was not completely shut out; ex-Governor, now Senator John W. Stevenson’s Northern Kentucky protégé, John G. Carlisle, was named to the Lieutenant Governorship in the spirit of party unity. In effect, the combined ticket was a declared temporary truce for the Lexington and Louisville factions of the Democracy, and, of course, it was an important time to come together. As events on the streets of Lexington would show, black men in the city and other Bluegrass towns were eager to build on their first steps into the electoral process the year before and mounted an even stronger challenge to the Democratic party and the hierarchical society it defended. The effort of some Cincinnatians to encourage white Democrats to bolt to the Republican ticket to support the railroad bill was ultimately unsuccessful statewide because of the combined Leslie-Carlisle ticket. “The Central Kentuckians,” in Coulter’s words, had by and large “not yet come to the point where they could change their politics for the road.”[14]

Or had they? Did the Republicans seize the city’s seat in the State House because more black voters had moved to Lexington since 1870? Were they victorious because the political organization in the black community was more effective in bringing out voters after a year of activity? Had the absence of militia violence before the election—as had happened in 1870—encouraged more black voters to go the polls in 1871? Or were a more or less constant number of black voters joined by pro-railroad Democratic bolters to send the younger Goodloe to Frankfort? Whatever brought about the Republican majority in the city, it is certain that their victory celebration in the courthouse square that evening soon erupted into a storm of lead as enraged Democratic militiamen swept the lawn with gunfire and later stared down a company of the Fourth U.S. Infantry. The city’s Democratic leadership would have called the idea that their voters had changed tickets ridiculous; their men had been just as outspoken in support of the railroad as had the Republican candidates—though for very different reasons. And even if some white Democrats bolted there is no getting around the fact that it was not they who faced the wrath of the “Democratic partisan militia,” but rather it was the black Republicans. Black men took the blame and the bullets as the price for the Republican electoral success. The majority of the city’s white Democracy paid no mind to Republican claims to better represent the Cincinnati Southern project because they preferred the successful completion of the road to be accompanied by the hierarchical, paternalistic social and economic vision that the pro-railroad Democrats represented. A railroad on Republican terms—a Kentucky on Republican terms—was not worth having.

With the statewide Republican threat quelled after the Leslie-Carlisle ticket carried the day, though, the Democratic feuding resumed. The new House passed the Cincinnati Southern bill with relative ease, and the charter cleared the Senate by the narrowest of margins—the tie-breaking vote of Lieutenant Governor and Senate president, John Carlisle. Surveying of the route began immediately and construction began in 1873. By early 1880 the line reached Chattanooga, opening a direct line for Central Kentucky trade to the heart of the deep South. Freight rates from the Bluegrass to Chattanooga dropped twenty percent, fourteen to Georgia, and nearly ten to the southern seaport towns.[15]

Even before the Cincinnati Southern had been completed, its promised prosperity emboldened Buckner, W.C.P. Breckinridge, and other Bluegrass elites to make the most of the new transportation lines that directly connected Lexington to all points on the compass and, hopefully, set the city on the right course to recovery from the national economic collapse of 1873.[16] In 1879 Buckner joined Breckinridge and a handful of other investors including Congressman James B. Beck, Frankfort newspaperman, aspiring fiction author, and former Adjutant General J. Stoddard Johnston, and Louisville attorney Bob Wooley in buying into a resort hotel in Bath County. Bath had long been known to entrepreneurs in the vicinity of Winchester and Lexington. Thomas Dye Owings, who had made the preliminary investigations of the iron fields that would become Josiah Jackson’s huge Red River tract, had taken his operation to the county and was honored for his efforts in the name of the county seat, Owingsville. Its iron aside, the county itself was named for the hot springs which bubbled up in its hills, leaving the advertising for the new White Sulphur Springs Hotel almost to itself. Though nature had provided the springs, the new economic interest in Eastern Kentucky would be responsible for bringing the tourists to them. The Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad, once headed by W.C.P.’s cousin John C. Breckinridge, finally completed after a wartime hiatus in construction, linked the coal and oil fields surrounding Ashland to central Kentucky and, with the completion of the Cincinnati Southern line to Chattanooga and points further south looming, would carry as much natural wealth out of the mountains as the industrial enterprises, North and South, could demand. Now, those same trains would bring the families of Bluegrass lawyers, merchants, and other beneficiaries of this Bluegrass railroad prosperity back to consume the healthful and luxurious relaxation in style and comfort.[17]

All this meant, in Coulter’s words, that “many of Louisville’s worst fears were realized. She lost virtually all of the trade of Central Kentucky,” and, in an effort to salvage what they could of their once-mighty southern market share, the fathers of the Falls City “became more lavish than ever in [their] hospitality to Southern merchants and business men.”[18] As a consequence, Louisville took every opportunity to rewrite its wartime history and paint itself as a Confederate bastion through and through. “Dead generals were eulogized at commercial conventions, city donations were sent to victims of Sherman’s march, and Louisville sent drummers, preferably ex-rebels, into every Southern crossroads to sell merchandise,” notes Connelly. “Perhaps the advertising campaign Louisville used to gain Southern trade was the real source of Professor Coulter’s labeling of Kentucky Democrats as neo-Confederates,” Connelly maintains. “In fact, Cincinnati newspapers continually accused Louisville of waving bloody stars and bars to gain Southern support, and it is from Cincinnati newspapers that Professor Coulter bolsters his assertion.”[19] Louisville, of course, was not the only culprit; Lexington was not far behind, and soon enough the image of the state as a plantation-filled embodiment of Confederate orthodoxy had become commercial gospel.


[1] The early and active participation of these families in such ventures after the war suggests that Dwight Billings’s observations about the heads of the antebellum agricultural order becoming the subsequent “builders of” and “powerholders” in New South North Carolina might well hold for Kentucky, too. Planters and the Making of a “New South:” Class, Politics, and Development in North Carolina, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 67. Buckner’s position amongst them is interesting, too. He would statistically appear to have been a classic New South middle class man who rose to prominence only after the wreckage of the old slave economy and its leading families; in fact, though, Buckner used his personal and familial connections within that antebellum Bluegrass slave society to make his name and career after the war.

[2] C. Vann. Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951, 1971), 27; James L. Roark, Masters Without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977).

[3] Among the most thorough accounts of the railroad competition between Cincinnati/Lexington and Louisville is E. Merton Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern Railroad and the Struggle for Southern Commerce, 1865-1872 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1922); Thomas L. Connelly, “Neo-Confederatism or Power Vacuum: Post-War Kentucky Politics Reappraised” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (hereafter Register) 64 no. 4 (Oct. 1966): 257-69.

[4] Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1867, vol. 2 (Frankfort: Kentucky Yeoman Office, 1867), 585-91

[5] Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 24-7.

[6] Connelly, “Neo-Confederatism or Power Vacuum,” 263-4.

[7] Connelly, “Neo-Confederatism or Power Vacuum,” 264; Cincinnati Commercial, May 22, 1869 qtd. in Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 37-8.

[8] Mark W. Summers, Railroads, Reconstruction, and the Gospel of Prosperity: Aid under the Radical Republicans, 1865-1877 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 14-5.

[9] Cynthiana Democrat qtd. in Cincinnati Commercial, Feb. 1870 qtd. in Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 48; Cincinnati Commercial, Apr. 1, 1870 qtd. in Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 49.

[10] Cincinnati Commercial, Dec. 1, 1870 qtd. in Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 50.

[11] As previously mentioned in Ch. 5, see David F. Ericson, Slavery in the American Republic: Developing the Federal Government, 1791-1861 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011), esp. p. 11.

[12] Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 55-7.

[13] Congressional Globe, Part 2, and Appendix, 42 Cong., 1 Sess., 5-10, qtd. in Ibid., 58.

[14] Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 60.

[15] Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 61-3.

[16] The outlines of the national panic, and the recovery from it, are seen in Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), esp. 1-10.

[17] Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1879 vol. 2 (Frankfort: Office of the Kentucky Yeoman, 1879), 485-6.

[18] Coulter, The Cincinnati Southern, 63.

[19] Connelly, “Neo-Confederatism or Power Vacuum,” 262-3.