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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky

00:00 47:34
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Today’s episode is a look at the life of Frances Peter, a Civil War-era Kentuckian who witnessed all the major events of the conflict, and watched her hometown switch hands from the Confederacy to the Union multiple times.

She was one of the eleven children of Dr. Robert Peter, a surgeon for the Union army. The Peter family lived on Gratz Park near downtown Lexington, where nineteen-year-old Frances began recording her impressions of the Civil War. Because of illness, she did not often venture outside her home but was able to gather a remarkable amount of information from friends, neighbors, and newspapers. Peter's candid diary chronicles Kentucky's invasion by Confederates under Gen. Braxton Bragg in 1862, Lexington's month-long occupation by Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, and changes in attitude among the slave population following the Emancipation Proclamation.

Today’s guest is Prof. John Smith, editor of Peter’s diary, which has been published under the name “A Union Woman in Civil War Kentucky.” As troops from both North and South took turns holding the city, she repeatedly emphasized the rightness of the Union cause and minced no words in expressing her disdain for the hated ""secesh."" Her writings articulate many concerns common to Kentucky Unionists. Though she was an ardent supporter of the war against the Confederacy, Peter also worried that Lincoln's use of authority exceeded his constitutional rights. Her own attitudes towards blacks were ambiguous, as was the case with many people in that time.

Peter's descriptions of daily events in an occupied city provide valuable insights and a unique feminine perspective on an underappreciated aspect of the war. Until her death by epileptic seizure in August 1864, Peter conscientiously recorded the position and deportment of both Union and Confederate soldiers, incidents at the military hospitals, and stories from the countryside. Her account of a torn and divided region is a window to the war through the gaze of a young woman of intelligence and substance.
March 10, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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