The buckle made all the difference. In 1896 factory workers sanded down the letters “U.S.” on the bronze belt and replaced them with “C.S.A.” This renovation marked the transition of the statue from Union to Confederate, not unlike Kentucky itself, a border state that turned Confederate only after the Confederacy was defeated. Originally ordered, but not paid for, by different town that wanted a Union statue, the unclaimed monument was purchased at a deep discount by the Jessamine County Memorial Association. Amidst rebel yells, strains of “Dixie,” and a crowd of 3,500 on Monday, June 22, 1896, the newly converted monument was dedicated on the courthouse lawn in downtown Nicholasville, Jessamine’s county seat.
“To Live and Die in Dixie: Civil War Memory in Jessamine County” examines race and Civil War memory in a central Kentucky county. Jessamine was the birthplace of Bennett H. Young, a Confederate raider who continued to embody the Lost Cause narrative as commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans. Jessamine’s courthouse lawn was—and is—the site of a Confederate common soldier statue erected in 1896, the same year that Plessy v. Ferguson was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The shadow of the Confederate statue, in turn, was the site of the 1902 lynching of a black sharecropper. Intriguingly, Jessamine County was also the site of Camp Nelson, a Union depot and enlistment center at which local black slaves could be emancipated if they successfully fled their plantations to the Camp’s gates. In 2018 Camp Nelson was named as Kentucky’s first national monument by President Donald Trump. In short, Jessamine County offers a rich and complex landscape through which to interrogate the malleability of Lost Cause, reconciliationist, and emancipationist memories of the Civil War in Kentucky and in the nation.