Contested Borderland: The Civil War in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia

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During the four years of the Civil War, the border between eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia was highly contested territory, alternately occupied by both the Confederacy and the Union. Though this territory was sparsely populated, the geography of the region made it a desirable stronghold for future tactical maneuvers. As the war progressed, the Cumberland Gap quickly became the target of invasion and occupation efforts of both armies, creating a chaos that would strain not only the soldiers but all those who called the area their home. Contested Borderland examines the features of the region's geography and the influence of the attacks on borderlands caught in the crossfire of the Union and Confederate forces. The land surrounding the Kentucky-Virginia border contained valuable natural resources and geographic features considered essential to each army's advancement and proliferation. While the Appalachian Mountains barred travel through large parts of the region, the gaps allowed quick passages through otherwise difficult terrain and thus became hotly contested areas. Brian D. McKnight explores the tensions between the accomplishment of military goals and the maintenance of civilian life in the region. With Kentucky remaining loyal to the Union and Virginia seceding to the Confederacy, populations residing between the two states faced pressure to declare loyalty to one side. Roadside towns found themselves the frequent hosts of soldiers from both sides, while more remote communities became shelters for those wishing to remain uninvolved in the conflict. Instead of committing themselves to either cause, many individuals claimed a neutral stance or feigned dedication to whichever side happened to occupy their land. The dual occupation of the Union and Confederate armies consequentially divided the borderland population, creating hostilities within the region that would persist long after the war's conclusion. Contested Borderland is the first Civil War study exclusively devoted to the border separating eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. McKnight's unprecedented geographical analysis of military tactics and civilian involvement provides a new and valuable dimension to the story of a region facing the turmoil of war.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Winner of the James I. Robertson Literary Prize" --

"The Civil War in southern Appalachia has received considerable scholarly analysis over the past few years, but until now there has been surprisingly little attention directed toward central Appalachia, which was fully significant militarily and suffered just as great a social and economic upheaval as did any part of the mountain South. Brian D. McKnight does much to fill that gap with his comprehensive new study of the war as experienced along the border of southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky. McKnight adeptly juggles the military, social, and political complexities of this border war in a meticulously documented and often compelling narrative." -- American Historical Review

"Comprehensive.... McKnight adeptly juggles the military, social, and political complexities of this border war in a meticulously documented and often compelling narrative." -- W

"This book makes a major contribution to the study of the Civil War in the mountain South by... [keeping] clear both the big picture and its smaller components. Contested Borderland' s integration of campaign histories with the social chaos and civilian suffering initiated by those campaigns has made for a very valuable study." -- Appalachian Journal

"McKnight shines a bright analytical light on mist-shrouded mountaintops, into darkened hollows, and along meandering creeks to illuminate the reasons why, from the earliest days of the war, commanders of both armies sought to recruit soldiers from among the region's insular and clannish population." -- Civil War Roundtable of DC Newsletter

"Engaging and eminently readable.... A compelling account of an isolated world turned upside down by a war fought over issues few of its residents understood or cared much about." -- Civil War Times

"A revealing and richly diverse account of the war in this too-neglected pocket of the South." -- Daniel E. Sutherland, editor of Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front

" Contested Borderland, Brian D. McKnight's well-researched narrative, represents one of the best recent, comprehensive examinations of the Civil War era in the mountain highlands of Kentucky and Virginia.... I recommend [it] to all serious Civil War scholars and enthusiasts." -- Journal of American History

"McKnight's work has much to offer in covering the war in the Central Appalachian Divide and in explaining why this region's inhabitants choose their respective allegiances." -- Journal of East Tennessee History

"Amply supplies the reader with an enjoyable and informational read that attempts to bridge a gap in Civil War history." -- Journal of Military History

"Written in a clear and accessible style, this book will appeal to both general and scholarly readers. This book is essential for all Appalachian regional and Civil War collections." -- Journal of Southern History

"McKnight's book is an important contribution to the cumulative work of many other scholars who have explored the Civil War in Appalachia for the past two decades. His work adds to the geographic breadth and the thematic complexity of our collective understanding of the subject." -- North Carolina Historical Review

"Through firsthand accounts and original military documents, McKnight portrays a self-sustained population forced into a conflict from which they perceived they had little to gain and much to lose." -- Northern Kentucky Heritage

"McKnight deserves praise for his effort to shed light on the long-neglected war in the mountains." -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Addresses an often-overlooked border conflict." -- WTBF Radio

" Contested Borderland is the first detailed study of the Civil War on the eastern Kentucky border. The author's analysis of military tactics, political realities, and genuine hardship, is first rate." -- West Virginia History

"As the only modern, comprehensive examination of the Civil War era in the mountain highlands of Kentucky and Virginia, McKnight's book makes a wonderful contribution to Civil War history. I heartily recommend the book. Contested Borderland is a fine narrative history of a complex subject in a very complex region, and I hope it spawns more scholarship on the highland region during the Civil War." -- Indiana Magazine of History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813123899
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/31/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 1,481,062
  • Product dimensions: 0.88 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian D. McKnight is a teaching fellow of history at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. His work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including the Historian, the Smithfield Review, and Ohio Valley History.

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Table of Contents

1 The Central Appalachian divide in unity and secession 9
2 Recruitment, training, and baptism : June-November 1861 29
3 Locking the Confederates into Virginia : December 1861-June 1862 53
4 The Kentucky campaign, Cumberland Gap : July-October 1862 71
5 The Kentucky campaign, Pound Gap : July-October 1862 91
6 An aggressive Union army : November 1862-February 1863 114
7 Return to Kentucky, return to Virginia : February-April 1863 138
8 Southwestern Virginia besieged : May-September 1863 151
9 East Tennessee rescued, Southwestern Virginia harassed : October 1863-March 1864 170
10 Impending defeat : April-September 1864 188
11 Violent war, violent peace : October 1864-April 1865 206
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2006

    The Civil War in the Hollers

    When most of us close our eyes and try to picture the Civil War as it happened, I imagine most of us see long rows of uniformed men advancing toward one another with appropriate flags waving above them, in an open field lit with sunshine. We seem to picture the war as one great Pickett¿s Charge. All the men are true and brave, ready to die doing their duty. Of course, that¿s not the way it was. And that vision was especially untrue in the regions tucked away from the commerce and the traffic and the war¿s main events. The ridges of the Appalachians separated people. They defined borders between states, between free and slave, and for a while between a country trying to save itself and another wanting to begin on its own. Those mountains and the narrow valleys between them offered plenty of shade and shadows in which people of all sorts could seek refuge. Where they ended in northwestern Pennsylvania the lumber camps became havens for well-armed bands of Union deserters. Farther south, along the Kentucky- Virginia frontier, mixed bands of deserters from both sides hid in the forests and preyed upon the locals. ¿Volunteers¿ stepped forward under the shield of being soldiers to steal from whomever they didn¿t like. As Brian McKnight points out in this regional study of the war near the Cumberland Gap, although lightly populated, this area had points of military significance, the gap itself being but one. It was here that James A. Garfield first proved his worth in the field, managing his men so well that he quickly gained promotion to brigadier and appointment as Don Carlos Buell¿s chief-of-staff. McKnight, who teaches at the University of Virginia¿s College at Wise, located right in the center of the area covered by his book, does a great job of showing all the facets of the war as they happened there. He shows you the military side, but also the partisan and civilian sides, which was significant in this mountain country where grudges were quickly formed and rarely forgotten, and an assassin in the dark could just as easily dole out justice as could a judge or jury. This was, after all, where the Hatfields and McCoys would carry on their own private war not many years afterward. In his thoughtful introduction, the author provides a good historiography of other regional studies of the partisan war fought in other places in the Appalachians, as well as in Missouri where it was, perhaps, at its worst. And he correctly points out that the war around the Cumberland Gap has never been adequately covered before. It has now, thanks to his efforts now available in this excellent book.

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