Hodge’s Support For Kentucky’s Neutrality Goes Awry
By Dr. Marshall Myers – 2016
The Civil War must have been a very frustrating experience for Confederate Gen. George Baird Hodge of Fleming County, Kentucky. In fact, it may be a misnomer to even call him “General,” since his confirmation at that rank was turned down twice by the Confederate Congress. One source, the Southern Historical Society, published by the prestigious Southern Historical Society, in its roster of Confederate generals, lists Hodge’s date of appointment to the rank of “Brigadier General” as November 20, 1863, but curiously leaves blank the “date of confirmation.” In fact, President Davis had submitted Hodge’s name to the Confederate Congress the first time on that date. The President tried another time on August 2, 1864, but the Confederate Congress turned down Hodge’s confirmation once again. Davis nominated Hodge a third time after the war on May 10, 1865, so Hodge was “paroled as a brigadier general,” according to the authoritative Generals In Gray.
Hodge served both as a legislator in the Confederate Congress, and, when the legislative body was not in session, changed roles and became a soldier in the field, but he had, as historian James Prichard noted, “openly expressed doubt about the wisdom of secession” and “warmly defended his old commander, Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, during the course of Breckinridge’s controversy with Bragg following the Battle of Murfreesboro.” Going the whole war, not knowing whether he would finally achieve the rank of general, must have caused Hodge great disappointment.
Hodge, however, came to be a soldier and legislator by a circuitous route. Born in Fleming County in the northeast section of the state on April 8, 1828, he somehow managed to secure an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, even though he was from a landlocked Kentucky. He graduated in December of 1845, serving then, Prichard says, in the Mexican War under Capt. David Connor at the Siege of Vera Cruz. After the war, he resigned his commission and returned to Kentucky to begin a law practice in Newport, Campbell County. After an unsuccessful try for Congress, he was finally elected to the Kentucky House in and about the time of the outbreak of the Civil War. While he did not favor secession, he rankled at the thought of Kentucky being under Union authority. He then was instrumental in writing” measures that would declare Kentucky’s neutrality, fearing otherwise that the Commonwealth would be ripe for invasions by Union forces.
But when Confederate forces captured Columbus, Hickman County, Kentucky, in violation of the state’s declared neutrality, Hodge fled South, realizing that his allegiance was to the Southern cause, for he was a firm believer in state’s rights. Being a staunch supporter of John C. Breckinridge, he asked to be put under his command, Prichard says. The first day of the Battle of Shiloh, in a vicious thunderstorm, Breckinridge and his staff, along with Hodge, took refuge under a large spreading oak when a “shell from a Union gunpoint exploded high in the branches above them.” Breckinridge and those accompanying him quickly fled. But Hodge, hard of hearing anyway, did not see the danger until he looked up and “bolted” the scene, just as big branches fell from the tree that would have seriously injured him.
Shortly after Shiloh, Hodge resigned his commission as captain in the army and was elected to the First Confederate Congress. In Congress, Hodge and others lobbied extensively in support of Confederate forces invading Kentucky, while also urging Congress to use Breckinridge and his Orphan Brigade on the mission that Generals Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg had initiated. The writers labeled the mission into the Commonwealth of “very high importance,” arguing that “we now have in Kentucky a civil government opposed to us; elections have recently been held in which the voice of the people was suppressed by the Military Governor of the state; soldiers were placed around the ballot box.” The letter to Davis concluded by saying that the “citizens of Kentucky who have the confidence of the great body of people” be allowed to return to the state and be active in the establishment of a Confederate state, a veiled reference to Breckinridge and his Orphan Brigade.
Davis was reluctant to agree with Hodge and name Breckinridge and his forces to be part of the invasion of Kentucky. As a strong supporter of Breckinridge, Hodge had to be frustrated, for in spite of the victory at the Battle of Richmond, the mission to snatch Kentucky from the Union was largely unsuccessful.
Breckinridge’s interest in bringing Kentucky into the Confederate hold did not diminish as the war wore on. For later, while in Wytheville, Virginia, he asked his commander. General [probably Samuel] Cooper’s permission to take Hodge’s brigade of 1,000 men and “make a raid into Kentucky. It would much encourage the men of my command, and I am convinced my knowledge of the topography of the state that such a raid would inflict great damage upon the enemy with comparable little risk.” But it was not to be. Once again, Hodge had met with disappointment.
According to Confederate Military History, after the Battle of Shiloh, where Hodge was cited for gallantry, he was promoted to major and then served as inspector general at the Confederate installation at Cumberland Gap. Shortly thereafter, on May 6, 1863, he was commissioned a colonel.
Hodge was also a lawmaker, so when the Confederate Congress was in session, he introduced a resolution that was an obvious Confederate answer to President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that provided for the use of African-American troops to fight for the Union cause. Hodge asked the Congress to pass a bill, “providing for the disposition of all Negroes or mulattoes, who may be captured from the enemy, in such manner that those who are fugitives from their masters may be…..
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