The Trials of Robert Buffum

Recording of a July 2017 talk at KHS on the postwar struggles of Medal of Honor winner Lt. Robert Buffum.

Buffum’s story of mental health problems, substance abuse, domestic trouble, and suicide echoes the struggles that many veterans face today. CWGK has developed an online exhibit and document reader suitable for the classroom and community group discussions. Link here.

Lincoln Papers Review & Planning Team

I am honored to have been included in a stellar group of editors and scholars on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Review and Planning Team. The PAL assembled the team to advise on next steps as PAL, one of the most ambitious digital editions ever imagined, looks to convert over 15 years of editorial work into its first digital publications.

Read more in the State Journal-Register

Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, said the new team has worked on similar projects and will assist with the current staff to help publish these documents onto the museum’s website.

“These folks that were brought in have worked on different projects around the country, and have many years of experience in different areas,” Lowe said. “They’re all quite skilled in documentary editing and understand that world.”

For Slavery & Union Reviews

Benjamin Forsythe Buckner was a conservative proslavery Unionist who was for the Union because he thought slavery would be safest in the Union, and who never accepted emancipation as a Union war aim. This insightful book positions Patrick Lewis among the cutting-edge scholars who have punctured the mythology about Kentucky’s benign slave system, harmonious social order, and enlightened political leadership.
— Daniel W. Crofts, author of Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

Patrick Lewis paints a splendid picture of pro-slavery Unionism in the form of Major Benjamin Buckner. His portrayal of the Kentucky planter gives texture, depth and nuance to an ideological position that has confounded historians for many years. This may be the first biography we have seen to capture the cultural and political center of Civil War-era Kentucky, including the state’s embrace of a conservative Union in 1861 and its rejection of a transformed Union in 1865.
— Aaron Astor, Maryville College, author of Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri

Patrick Lewis’s splendid For Slavery and Union is a most welcome contribution to Civil War, Kentucky, and border state historical scholarship. Deeply researched and gracefully crafted, Lewis’s book provides the best insights available into the conflicted ideological and social worlds of Benjamin Forsythe Buckner and like-minded proslavery unionists during the Civil War era. Better than any previous scholar, Lewis untangles the conundrum conservative and upwardly mobile white southerners confronted as the nation dissolved. They believed not only that unionism and slavery went hand and hand, but envisioned that secession signaled the death knell not only of the ‘peculiar institution’ but also of white southerners’ much-boasted ‘way of life,’ a Weltanschauung predicated on white supremacy. Lewis’s mature, richly interpretive study places Buckner’s postwar life in the whirligig world of Jim Crow/New South Kentucky, a world he quietly embraced.
— John David Smith, author of Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops

On a fellow historian’s tip, as part of a recent book project, I researched the letters of Benjamin Forsythe Buckner written to his fiancée. This revealing collection of Civil War documents offers the perspective of a Kentucky Union officer who resigned his military commission in 1863 specifically to protest the Emancipation Proclamation, long before his home state saw its slaves freed by wartime realities. Patrick A. Lewis has turned this small set of letters into a larger, more troubling story—the postwar transformation of the former loyal Bluegrass State into an unreconstructed southern state, accomplished by the defiant politics of racial hatred, war allegiance, and fictive memory.
— Christopher Phillips, University of Cincinnati, author of The Civil War in the Border South

Well-researched, well-argued, and well-written, For Slavery and Union is an exemplary study. Benjamin Buckner of Kentucky personifies the dilemma of the Upper South proslavery unionist, during and after the Civil War. Author Patrick Lewis ably portrays the trials, contradictions, and struggles of those who favored the union, but who also saw it as the best way to protect slavery. Once the conflict became one to end slavery, Buckner zealously joined blue and gray allies in protecting whiteness. By placing Buckner fully in the context of his times, Dr. Lewis reveals that the old unionist did not change, but rather the circumstances in the world around him did. To Benjamin Buckner, the best way to protect slavery was to keep the union together. He thus joined the Union cause as the Civil War began. But his opposition to emancipation brought about his resignation. Soon he joined his former enemies in trying to shape a postwar world that would replicate the prewar racial one. All this in well-told in a wonderful case study by Patrick Lewis. His well- researched and well-written work personifies the dilemmas faced by Upper South proslavery unionists, in war and in the fights that followed the peace
— James C. Klotter, State Historian of Kentucky and professor of history at Georgetown College

Patrick Lewis has written and engaging and insightful portrait of a man who embodied the struggle many loyal whites in the Upper South endured during the Civil War era. His nuanced examination of Benjamin Buckner’s outlook and choices elucidate the phenomenon of pro-slavery Unionism shared by many white Southerners. This is a biography that will deepen our understanding of an important but understudied wartime faction.
— Anne Marshall, Mississippi State University

Deeply researched and narrated with elegance and verve, For Slavery and Union is the story of a fascinating Kentuckian whose life mirrored the larger ordeal of the state in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In Lewis’ skillful hands, Benjamin F. Buckner’s life becomes an account of loyalties divided but never fully reconciled, and of a proslavery Unionism that foundered in the face of emancipation. The result is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand why Kentucky sided with the Union in the Civil War—and then turned south to align with the former Confederates states in the decades beyond. A sobering but thoroughly enjoyable read. — Amy Murrell Taylor, University of Kentucky

White Unionists in Kentucky, argues Patrick Lewis, fought with the Union for the benefit of slavery, not despite slavery. That one insight is the basis of a gracefully written, beautifully argued reinterpretation of Kentucky’s experience in the Civil War era that also speaks to American political culture more generally. Even as the Civil War divided the nation, support for slavery and racial inequality flourished in both the Union and the Confederacy, suggesting how difficult it would be to find a resolution to the conflicts that led the nation to war.
— Laura Edwards, author of A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights

This is the first major work to personify how Kentucky cultivated a Confederate identity after the Civil War.
Kentucky Alumni

With this first book Lewis, an assistant editor of publications at the Kentucky Historical Society, emerges as a preeminent student of the Civil War and subsequent decades of “adjustment” in the Bluegrass State. [. . .] Thoroughly researched, persuasively argued, and elegantly written, For Slavery and Union merits careful reading and rereading.
Civil War Book Review

[M]ost readers will find For Slavery and Union both enjoyable and informative.
Journal of American History

An admirable job […] of explaining the complexities of Kentucky’s competing political factions as they existed before, during, and after the war.

Civil War scholars and those who focus on border state issues will find the volume informative.

Civil War enthusiasts and generalists with a penchant for American history will enjoy this
Overall, the book is well written, engaging, and adequately documented.
— Tommy Brown — Civil War Monitor

[W]ell-written [. . .] improve[s] our understanding of Kentucky before, during, and after the Civil War.

[M]ay serve as [a] solid introduction to the history of the Bluegrass State. [It] also add[s] depth and complexity to the story of the border states, the debate over slavery, and the sectional conflict that ensued.
West Virginia History

This well-written account personifies the situation and reaction of pro-slavery Unionists
after the war, and examines the lengths to which they went to maintain the status quo.
Kentucky Library Association

For Slavery and Union offers an engagingly written chronological narrative with a single person as its focus and a crystal-clear thesis that speaks to the meaning of the Civil War generally, not just in Kentucky, and as such should appeal to anyone with an interest in the era.
Ohio Valley History

Thoroughly researched, well-written book.

Anyone interested in Kentucky history will find Lewis’ For Slavery and Union an imaginative, delightful read they will not forget.
Bowling Green Daily News

Lewis presents a clear, engaging, and persuasive narrative about Buckner, divided Kentucky loyalties, and the results of Buckner’s choices to resist changes in race relations.
Civil War History

Patrick A. Lewis [presents a] very well-researched, well-written, and significant case study [ . . . .]
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

SHA Grad Council #TakeoverTuesday

Some thoughts about public history work and graduate education, compiled for the Southern Historical Association’s Graduate Council with my good friend Mandy Higgins

#TuesdayTakeover Storify Link

My #publichistory thesis:

Public History requires creating your classroom before you get to teach in it.

Building a public history classroom means attracting your audience and delivering a lesson in an engaging form that retains them over the short and long term.
As grad students, we’re trained to convert new scholarship into undergraduate instruction.

This is entirely transferable to public history. What isn’t taught to history grads are soft skills and administrative follow through to create that teachable moment outside the university setting.

Public history is the work of fundraising, exhibit and program design, marketing, project management, networking, event planning, etc. to bring learners into your non-traditional classroom.

So, students need to learn the skills it takes to create opportunities to use our training as researchers and teachers and how to stay motivated and engaged when bureaucracy, funding, and politics make it tough to build and sustain the classrooms you want.

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LongStoryShort: Caroline

Working with the LongStoryShort podcast team at the University of Kentucky, the Civil War Governors of Kentucky team recorded a long-form piece of audio journalism that explores race, emancipation, murder, and justice.

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It’s 1862 and an ex-slave named Caroline has been convicted of infanticide in Louisville, KY. Some argue that she deliberately killed the child whereas others believe that the father’s reckless use of poison to kill nuisance animals resulted in the death of the toddler. Caroline’s future hangs in the balance as an all-white jury and pro-slave governors consider whether to execute or pardon her from the crime. Join Long Story Short as we speak to historians at the Kentucky Historical Society who are investigating this story as a part of their Civil War Governors of Kentucky project. You can find out more about the project by visiting this site: civilwargovernors.org/the-caroline-chronicles/