How black recruitment affected Kentucky's war effort

Map of Kentucky

Scholars have often questioned Kentucky's loyalty during the American Civil War. Stemming from the state's desire to maintain slavery, many historians have determined that the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, coupled with black recruitment, caused the state's unionist sentiment to decline. However, a close examination of Kentucky's yearly recruitment data reveals that during this year, Kentucky experienced a major recruitment surge. This is significant because it implies that despite the 1863 enactment of emancipation and black recruitment, white Kentuckians were still willing to volunteer for the Union cause. Although the state's recruitment motives hinged on a desire to preserve slavery, this data contradicts the historical consensus that emancipation undermined Kentucky's unionism. While the similarly populated states of Michigan and Wisconsin struggled to find volunteers in 1863, resorting to conscription and black recruitment, Kentucky managed to fill its quotas with white volunteers. These measures effectively encouraged Kentucky to exhaust its white male population by early 1864, forcing it to resort to black recruitment

This digital component will breakdown Kentucky's yearly recruitment and compare it against the similarly populated states of Michigan and Wisconsin. Focusing on the quantitative data, this project reasons that the Emancipation Proclamation and black recruitment motivated white Kentuckians to volunteer in order to prevent black recruitment and preserve the integrity of slavery in the state. Throughout the war, Kentucky experienced two principle troop surges which differentiate the border state from both Michigan and Wisconsin. The first surge came in September of 1861 when over 30,000 white Kentuckians volunteered to defend the state against invasion and instability. The second surge occurred in 1863 when the state committed some of its final reserves of white manpower to prevent black recruitment in the state. This argument is significant as it maintains that Kentucky's loyalty to the union did not decrease as a result of emancipation and black recruitment in 1863. Instead, these measures strengthened the state's resolve to commit its final reserves of white manpower to preserve the integrity of slavery by fighting for the Union.

How it Works

This digital component corresponds to my written thesis. I organized it chronologically with each section containing visual representations of the quantitative data I present in each chapter. Due to the fact that this component complements the primary thesis, I do not include all of the supporting arguments. Instead, this site focuses on displaying each state's recruitment and population data with the intent to show Kentucky's gradual exhaustion relative to Michigan and Wisconsin.

Data-Driven Arguments

The four sections respectively correspond to the thesis chapters


The 1860 populations of each state, the introduction of the war, and the recruitment data of each state.


Measuring each state's respective recruitment returns in 1862 to show the beginnings of military exhaustion in Kentucky.


Display the recruitment data of each state in 1863 and emphasizes that emancipation and black recruitment did not significantly undermine unionist sentiment in Kentucky.


Show Kentucky's white military exhaustion by early 1864 and how black enlistments made-up of the majority of the state's recruitment during the latter stages of the war.

Link to Thesis