The Civil War was fought for four years, from April 12, 1861 until May 9, 1865. The country was split between eleven Southern “Confederate” states, rebelling to preserve a culture and economy that included slavery, and 34 (later 36) Northern “Union” states, refusing to accept a break up of the United States. Kentucky was in the middle of it all.
Kentucky and Missouri hold the distinction of being represented by a star on both the Union and Confederate flags during the Civil War. Kentucky was a slave state bordered by three slave states and three free states. A quarter of its population was enslaved and had no political rights. The white population was narrowly divided on the issues of slavery and the war. At least 130,000 Kentucky men fought in the Civil War, 2/5th of them for the Confederacy.
Bitter disagreements shook the foundations of communities and families. In Kentucky — as much as anywhere — the Civil War was a fight of brother against brother.
Hopkinsville was well known as a hotbed of secessionist sympathies. The local economy depended on slavery, and most white people resisted anything that would upset the social order that slavery defined. Local businessmen and private citizens contributed money, food, and war supplies to the side of their choice. The white community was divided.
Anticipation among African Americans in Western Kentucky — the overwhelming majority of whom were enslaved — had been building for years in lead up to the war.
Hopkinsville changed hands between the Union and the Confederacy several times, generally without much violence.
In the fall of 1864, the black soldiers making up the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry fought Confederates in Eddyville, 40 miles to the west-northwest. They stationed themselves briefly in Hopkinsville.