This Ardent Emancipationist Was Appointed By President Lincoln As The Lieutenant Colonel Of The Fourth Kentucky Mounted Infantry
Dr. Marshall Myers 2016
Union men volunteered for service in the Civil War for a number of reasons. Some sought adventure outside the tiny communities that thousands called home. Some were caught up in the furor of defending the Union, reasoning that dissolving of that Union would render the United States a broken and torn country. Later, a few men, especially in the Northeast, were willing to fight for the freeing of slaves in the South.
John Thomas Croxton saw joining the Union cause clearly to save the Union and to emancipate the slaves.
Born near Paris in Bourbon County, Kentucky, November 20, 1836, the son of a wealthy landowner and slave holder, Croxton graduated from Yale University in 1857, a seminal experience for the young man, because he cemented his life-long disgust with slavery as wrong for Kentucky and wrong for Kentucky’s economic future in agriculture. At Yale he was then able to articulate in specific terms just how he felt about slavery.
John Thomas Croxton’s Letter To His Father
While a student at Yale, Croxton answered a letter he received from his father, in which his father asked his son if he were an “abolitionist.” Biographer Rex Miller records young Croxton’s answer in part:
“As for being an ‘Abolitionist,’ in the Kentucky acceptance of the term, I should feel so incensed at such a slander. If I should remember rightly, the term abolitionist means among you a ‘Negro stealer,’ one who is determined to abolish slavery, by any means and all means, whether the slaveholder consents or not. If this is what you mean by the term, I beg leave to say at once, that I am not an abolitionist and never will be.”
As Croxton wrote, his views on the peculiar institution were quite different from his father’s:
“For fear you may be in doubt as to what I actually am, I will tell you now, I always have been, and, I presume, I shall always shall be an Emancipationist [as] every man in Kentucky who has thought seriously of the matter, and had his eye open [would agree].”
Young Croxton, then, was what others called a “colonializationist,” one who believed that the Negro “problem” could only be solved if all the slaves were sent back to Africa to what later became Liberia. This was a movement that had fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay as one of its founders. President Lincoln, for a time, also believed in the same cause. Lincoln, for example, called black leaders into the White House and openly sought their cooperation in the movement, with little success, however.
Croxton knew that his father was quite practical and realized that many Kentucky slaveholders reasoned that while the institution was perhaps an “evil necessity,” slavery was still a necessity to keep Kentucky productive agriculturally. He spelled out in dollars and cents just how the Kentucky landowner could indeed prosper without slavery.
To summarize the young Croxton’s argument, Croxton said that the elder Mr. Croxton was now only deriving $2,000 from his 400 acres, because much of the profit for raising wheat went to “feed, clothe, and care for the Negro who works your land and grows wheat. Now I would like to see Negroes replaced with white labor. Then by superior tillage your acres of ground would [yield] $10,000.” Croxton went on: “The laborers will be supplied from your own midst… They will remain in Kentucky instead of going west; those who have but small or no capital will work as laborers, until they can purchase [land] for themselves.”
To drive home his argument, young Croxton noted that “I find in looking over the census list that whenever the proportion of slaves to white is large, there the white population has [fallen] away, and the slaves increased,” arguing that the cost of farming goes up when slaves are used as laborers, particularly “in Bourbon County where the slaves almost equal in number to the whites. In the end, [you] must dignify labor before this shall be done away. This can be done in Kentucky by introducing white and abolishing black labor, and this can be done by no other means.”
John Thomas Croxton Volunteers For The Union
After graduating from Yale, John Thomas Croxton studied law in Georgetown, continued his fight against slavery, and practiced law a couple of years before the war broke out. Interestingly, Croxton was “one of two men,” Miller says, “that voted for Abraham Lincoln for President.”
Authorized by General William “Bull” Nelson to “enroll troops at Camp Dick Robinson, Croxton rode through many counties in the state, recruiting for the Union cause.” His efforts became what was later the Fourth Kentucky Mounted Infantry with Croxton as lieutenant colonel. The official records say that Croxton was attached to the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Cumberland. Croxton saw action in a long list of battles both in Kentucky and outside the state. Notably, he fought at Mill Springs and the Battle of Perryville before heading south to become a commander at the Battle of Chickamauga, later fighting in the Nashville Campaign and various battles in the South. He was wounded twice, once with a flesh wound at the Battle of Nashville, exacerbated by action at Missionary Ridge, and once before at Chickamauga.
Croxton Invades Alabama
Perhaps Croxton, by this time, was best known as the Brigadier General who, late in the war, was operating under the command of the chief of cavalry Major General James Harrison Wilson. Croxton was directed to carry out an independent mission, with 1,500 men under him, to parts of Alabama. The campaign began in early April 1865 and included action at Tuscaloosa near the end of the war, at what was to become the University of Alabama. Croxton responded by burning most of the buildings, of the what was then called the Alabama Military College, while under threat by Confederate forces in the region. Those combatants included forces under the command of the dreaded cavalry leader, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Croxton feared that Forrest would unite with the commands of Confederate Generals Wirt Adams and “Red” Jackson, who were also in the area. This would have been a combined force of overwhelming ….
Finish this story and more in our March 2016 issue!
Love History? Get 1,100 pages and 1,000 Pictures delivered to your door for a nickel a day! Yes, you read that right, a nickel.
Have something to say?