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History of the Kentucky Civil War Roundtable
"Welcome to the witnessing history education foundation podcast educating Americans to understand the history of their country and of other countries. So that they will appreciate the value of America's unique free institutions become an American hero. Who participates in our mission by joining us at witnessing history dot ORG. Download our documentaries and free teacher education materials that conform to grade level education standards at PBS learning media dot ORG, follow witnessing history on Facebook, Twitter and linked in today. Our guest is witnessing history education foundation's president can't master sim Brown. He is here to provide us with the story behind the country's second oldest and the largest civil war roundtable the Kentucky. So. Civil war. Roundtable Ken is the current president of the Kentucky civil around table, which meets five times per year over dinner with guest speakers who travel from all over the country to appear before are the membership of about three hundred eighty people. The meetings are held at the embassy suites on Newtown pike for more information, go to the website at Kyi, civil war, roundtable dot ORG. Now, let's listen to a short excerpt of the recording from the October nineteen fifty to address of attorney in Lincoln scholar. William H Townsend of Lexington Kentucky appearing before the Chicago, civil war roundtable, discussing Kentucky legend caches Marcellus lay. Have to pray shun had one, Sean. Brutus clay who you know, rose fell and such. I'm at a curry enough for one time when I was writing drive down over visit deal. And as he stood framed in the doorway arm or gray Jaakko. Away. The myself that the old line would never be dead knowledge. His son. And I had a very pleasant time with it. Too many pictures air e-even book, I assure you that I wanted all controversial question. I continue to do that matter of fact until one time. Morning 'cause Hamburg and. Share with adverse? Leks? Are they coming to Lexington? Car called me up to be at the day out. I feel sure that he needed this from Kentucky tavern. What I was at. Then all sad that now are you going to write the light of cases invade? If you don't go to write it. And. What are we going to name going to call it? They Magnussen bladder sky. That. General got any sudden in? But he's got a daughter is lower. Live in that she retaliated heavily on that. Live with regret big woman trapped ya'll and one time in a democratic state convention. I heard her make us beach at made the delegates tab that go ahead. The lie. I did was I haven't either over the register. I've alleged ties together you live together. Make in that. I can't protect the writer, and I got time to do it. Let me all right. Tell Nick Lara when I see. So I went up Steve as I am to do that before. Spoke back quickly advantage. He had nobody. But a Kentucky. Good, dan. My father. And I'm all right for me to write alive. General quite. I did you have to go into great mundane that were controversial during his life and unpleasant the families that just record ball and his wife Mary ship. All right. He acted a cheating a good sport about that. And chart at that. She died other things intervene into life day is not yet. Delighting to remember that after the civil war clay has put Visteon prepped, you tell us something he had. Birth. Glam vision beginning when he got back from the AM strange enough. How did it? But he won two straight terms and the state out. You'd have told you our goal in the sixty rather than the United States Senate. Then of course, he wanted to take a day of war in Lincoln's cabinet. Got across to Petersburg. He bested Lincoln about getting into the war on dill Lincoln, finally eight him come back about teams to made a major. You a couple of battle. But he found out that the night at work. In our interest and went back to Russia. Where are you? Tonight. He lives I think a candidate for governor. I remember directly later on in his life. Whatever political admissions, he had I think he surely must have known that. He could hardly realize them matter principle and much as he such that only say, but they just. I want to seem the letters that he sent to Charles Dane suggestion himself to the president. I very sure that he cable. Will come Kent. Good beer. Is good to talk about the Kentucky civil around table. It's a great institution that is a great institution now. So let's talk about William towns in for a minute. Who is he Bill as we I knew Bill, and he he was born in Anderson county Kentucky, and that's lawrenceburg, and there's even a historical marker it is birth site. Bill was raised there. He is the only person I've ever known in my life who turned to me and told me of the Mexican war veterans. He knew growing up. That takes it back pretty far. He was born about eighteen ninety. And he died in nineteen sixty four, but he knew just a lot of people who not only Mexican war veterans, but particularly civil war veterans, and he became enamored with history as a young boy, he went to the university of Kentucky. And then the university of Kentucky law school. And began practicing law here in Lexington and practice practice it under a firm called stall Muir, Townsend and park, and they were in the old first national building on main street and upper and he took his interest in history to some significant links one he became a namrd with ABRAHAM LINCOLN. And I think what got him into Lincoln was his friendship with William Barton. William Barton was one of the great Lincoln scholars in the nineteen thirties and forties. He wrote a biography wrote a two volume biography from Kentucky. No, but Barton befriended Townsend, and he introduced house into a lot of people like Carl Sandberg, who of course, ROY. A multi volume biography of ABRAHAM LINCOLN towns than wound up writing a book called Lincoln in his in his wife's hometown, which show is a study of Lincoln's connection with Lexington. And that became a book the university of Kentucky press. Now, the university press of Kentucky published as Lincoln and the bluegrass in the nineteen fifties. And it was a very popular book. When I was a boy. And so those were his major books, but then he also produced all sorts of other side things like a book called hundred proof which were stories of the Salt River. These are stories he grew up with well now, he's from the town that that houses the wild Turkey still. As as the as the as his talk that we've just heard the fragment. He laced everything with references to bourbon whiskey refers to it in their is Kentucky tavern. I think Carl Sandberg would like a little Kentucky tavern of. But Bill became the first president. He's really the organizing a person behind the Kentucky civil war roundtable and was its first president until he died nineteen sixty four. So that's Bill. Yes. And now he had some other connections with ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Will he he was a collector? Yes, linked Konia. He collected all sorts of Lincoln documents Lincoln legals Lincoln signatures. He also befriended as a young lawyer here in Lexington. The the son of Benjamin Hardin helm, the confederate Brigadier General who was. Killed at chick Amata and his his son Ben Hardin helm junior lived south of Lexington in a place still called the helm place was brought up there by his mother who was the widow of general helm, Emily and two sisters. Well, let's talk about Emily for a minute. She has a very important connection to ham Lincoln. She has a huge connection of as do all. These are Emily is one of the children of the second marriage of Robert Todd who was married Todd Lincoln's father her mother died relatively young and Todd remarried, married, Elizabeth Humphreys and from that second marriage. He had multiple children one of whom was Emily. So Emily is the half sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, and she's the one who married Ben Hardin helm, the confederate Brigadier General, one of those interesting things about all this, frankly is who in Robert Todd's, the children of his first marriage all became fundamentally pro union during the civil war is daughter Mary Todd, married, the president of the United States, but the children from his second marriage all of Mary Todd, Lincoln's half siblings. All all the boys became confederate officers or confederate soldiers. All the girls married confederate officers. Two of them even lived in Selma, Alabama in the war broke out stitch together. The battle flag of the magnolia graze from a company of infantry from Selma and both of them attended Jefferson, Davis's inaugural. Imagine that all this kind of stuff in Namur Billtown. He loved this stuff. And it's so much of what he did. Form the platform on which so much. Other work has been done on Lincoln his relationship with Lexington. Which is probably the third most important town in his life. Well, and Phil ends up. Marrying the beautiful daughter of his friend, Ben Hardin, helm junior and ends up living, no less than in the home place. He didn't marry the daughter. Okay. I've been Hardin how junior he befriended. Ben. Okay. Then was a bachelor. Okay. And Ben lived out there. Now, what happened was that built Howson's daughter? Mary Genevieve, Mary Joe Murphy and those two lived in the hell place. I see that works. Okay. I had that MC Steph a little bit. Okay. He Bill basically took care of been helm junior. And Ben apparently turned to Bill and said look at a it's all years if you take care of me, and you know without pensions and without. All sorts of nursing care, and those days, it was nice to have someone agree to help you and it was worth a lot. And for Ben hell, that's what he did. And Bill took care of him. And at the end Bill got the house gave it to his daughter and been out there. Many many times with Bill daughter and her husband, so lovely place. It's beautiful a lovely place. A Greek revival mansion building out eighteen fifty two beautiful place. So that's built towns, and what are some of the artifacts he collected? And where could we see them today? We'll. Some of the Lincoln artifacts. Let me give you a story. I like story. My first introduction with Bill. Townsend was in November nineteen fifty nine. Now, I would have been ten going on eleven and I went to the Kentucky civil war roundtable when it was it was being held in the gold room of the Lafayette hotel. Which is now the government building down on mainstream. Then it was a beautiful hotel Laureus ballrooms, and and the round table met in this the gold room, which is absolutely gorgeous. Anyway, my host who was also my the family doctor William team accent asked me would you like to go up and meet Mr. Townsend, and I said I'd love to. 'cause I'd heard about him. And so I went up there and up they're going up there with us was Dr maxim son film action who was a young chum of mine growing up and has been a friend of mine ever since is to this day and like his father. He's a loyal member the Kentucky civil war around table. So I went up to see this fellow in here is this this fellow with the three piece suit seated in the chair behind the speaker stand, and he sees us come up, and he turns in the chair. And he Wight white hair as he says shock of white hair. And he's got this three piece suit with his watch fob. And and he turns into goes, how are you young fellow? And I said, I'm fine. He says I'm Bill Townsend, and I said, well, I'm can't Brown. And this is my friend, Phil Maxon. And towns and shook Phil's hand. And he goes to me do you like a Lincoln? And I said, oh, yes. Mr. towns than I really do like ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Now, get this, folks. He then reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pocket watch. And he says to you know, who's watch this is and I go, no. And he turns it over and it has on the back a Lincoln. And he said, it's Abraham Lincoln's. And he says you see this crease up by the stem. And I said, yes, he says Tina how that crease got there. I said, no. And he says when Lincoln was shot in Ford's better. He said he slumped in the chair and major Rathbone who is his bodyguard ran over and tried to pull him out of the chair and the watch got caught. Now, can you imagine the effect of this on a ten year old kid? My eyes were just popping out of my head. I know we probably would have left head off after this little little deal with me. But he was wearing Lincoln's pocket watch. And then he said, do you know, who's cufflinks these are on? I said they Lincoln's to he says, they are they were he said he wore them the night. He was assassinated see Ben helm gave him those and Ben got him. Because I mean, he he was a. He lived a long time and in that family. The only other living member was raw. It was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son, Robert Robert Todd Lincoln, and Robert Todd would have had them and probably given them Ben Ben helm because there was no one else to take them. So the proven ons of them was darn good those were like artifacts. And those items today as I understand are in the Kentucky. Historical sino. The I have seen the watch at the condition. Historical. Yeah. It's actually in Frankfurt. Yeah. Cufflinks? We don't know. I don't know. And are the famous Lincoln collector of whose name escapes me. It'll come to me but out west actually, I think bought. A lot of the Lincoln artifacts from Mary Genevieve well after Bill passed away she had no way of knowing what to do with all of that. And it was extensive not only Lincoln, but all kinds of things related to cash. Clay, Kentucky, Anna Kentucky history. Bill is a huge collector. Yeah. So so when you met Mr. Townsend as a young boy. Yeah, he was the president was the president the Kentucky civil roundtable. So let's talk about what are these roundtables that you're referencing? What what how did these get going? The the God going frankly with the Chicago civil war roundtable this Chicago, civil war roundtable, the organization that Bill gave that famous speech to fragment which you just heard. He gave out in nineteen fifty two October of nineteen fifty two Chicago civil around table began not too far before then, and it's whole mission was simply to have meetings than like, Chicago roundtable were meeting monthly, but having meetings where they could invite notable speakers and then discuss the American civil war and give people an opportunity to to do that. And that roundtable was put together much like this one by people who had an academic interest in the civil war were academics. But also people who simply had an avocation interest in the civil war some people who had a commercial interest in the civil war like the the owner of the ABRAHAM LINCOLN bookshop in Chicago in Chicago, which is still being operated. A Ralph Newman was his name. And these people had huge interest in not just to sell things, but an interest themselves. That's what got them into the business of of running a bookshop like that. So all those kind of people came together in Chicago, they referred to it as a table because that was kind of the the vision of this something like king Arthur's of famous crew that sat around round table in Britain. And these were the select, and that's kind of the thought behind it. And once the Chicago civil war roundtable began going in earnest you saw some other start to spring up. The second one though was the Kentucky civil war roundtable. And what happened was Bill went up there and gave that speech, and he was so well. Saved. I mean, it was a tremendous. And he went up there with his old friend j Winston Cullman who is another really close friend of mine for years. We were great buddies other two of them went up there. Townsend and Coleman were inseparable, and he gave that talk and came back so fired up about the idea of an organization had just had speakers on the civil war that he decided why don't we form one? And so in October nineteen sixty nineteen fifty three. Bill Townsend called an informal group to his law office on main street and to discuss forming forming around table and by the way by nineteen October nineteen fifty three. That speech. He gave had already been put on thirty three and a third RPM records, and we're sold all over the country. Civil around him. Benefit of ABRAHAM LINCOLN books you. Yes. Yes. No man was recording. This unbeknownst Bill towns. And here's a funny story about that Bill. I mean, people were asking if you got the record that you of your of your of your speech, Bill goes, hell, no, hell, no. Like this. No one ever told me he was being recorded. He really got mad about it. And he threatened to sue Ralph Newman for for doing that. But then one day he gets a letter in the mail that up on the upper left of the envelope. Breeds the White House. And and he opened this envelope up and unfolds the letter, and it says, dear Mr. Townsend Mamie, and I have listened to your recording on caches, Marcellus clay, and we found it. The most entertaining speech we ever heard signed to David Eisenhower and with that he gave up all thoughts of suing round. Win viral viral viral in nineteen fifty three and it went viral thirty three and a third. By the way, their people to this day will come up to me at the roundtable or the places they do you have a copy of that speech. Bill towns, if you don't got one I can give you. I mean, it's just you can't imagine the number of people that don't copies of that to me. Unbelievable. So ours was founded in started in nineteen fifty three and let me let me tell you some of the people who are with him who. These are the founding spirits around hip, of course, Bill Townsend. He's he's holding forth in his own law. Herman Lee Donovan who was president of the university of Kentucky. I didn't know Dr Donovan, but he had a marvelous reputation in this town. Then eighty kirwin kirwin. I knew kirwin ABC kirwin was the was a historian did some extraordinarily fine work on John J Crittenden and then Johnny green of the orphan brigade. He's the one who originally edited that fine book kirwin came from Louisville. He played football at the university of Kentucky and became during World War Two the football coach, and you can imagine in the middle of World War Two. What Kentucky's football team was like not much. It wasn't much throughout my young life. But it must've been really at a low ebb during Curran's coaching tenure there and he became president of the university Kentucky. So he was there a great historian. But also, a an early administrator of the university of Kentucky a home in Hamilton was their home and became a very, dear dear friend of mine, and and. And Homan Homan came from Fort, Wayne, Indiana, he went to Williams College, and then got into journalism and was a a newspaper man for the Fort Wayne news, and while he was a newspaper man, he wrote the two volume biography of saccharine Taylor. And he was he's like Bill Townsend he had a profession, but he was so interested in history that he writes two volumes. The only Barbara Fay's Baga fee of Zachary Taylor ever done. I mean, far as I'm concerned, and then he decided in midlife I'm going to go I'm gonna get up. So he gets up at the university of Kentucky, and then becomes a professor. So he's attending this meeting as a fellow who is in his final years. It is getting his PHD. In history, and he became one of the most popular historians and professors ever at the university of Kentucky. And if you knew him, you'd know why he's was the perfect gentleman. A- terrific human being also present was another old friend for whom I worked for many years Hamilton tap. Dr tap came from Springfield Kentucky. Went to center. College was a graduate of the class of nineteen twenty two. And he was there for the famous football was there during nineteen twenty one the famous football game with Harvard, and I asked him once if he went he said, no I didn't go the game. But we went down to the Western Union office and listen for it. And they would they would announce as the cables came across. They would go out on the front straight announce Senator just gained two yards. Bobick Mellon took the ball to the right and his tackled around the thirty six yard line of. As close as you got. But. Ham as we all called him became a professor at the university of a longtime educator and became a professor at the university. But more than that, he became the head of the Kentucky life museum, which is now wave land state park out off the Hague mill pike, and I used to work for him out there. But he was he was president j Winston Cullman engineered developer and a amateur history. Really not amateurs were isn't words overused. He was a serious historian wrote a lot of pamphlets a lot of good books and was a great photographer. And so he wrote a lot of photographic works on Kentucky's history. Willard rouse Gylfason, the state geologist who I mean, he's one of the great historians of Kentucky's frontier. Period. Living in Frankfurt. He was a terrific character. A so these were the types that formed the Kentucky around nitsa talented group. A group to say I feel like the leadership still maintains a lot of talent a lot of connections with the university of Kentucky. There's a high level of academic excellence represented there and the roundtables able to draw speakers of just the highest caliber from all over the country. It's an amazing organization. What happened after that initial meeting? They had a second one in Herman Donovan's office at the university. And they're the same group elected the temporary officers and then in November of nineteen fifty three before forty five charter members they conducted their first meeting at the UK student union, and they voted to make those temporary officers permanent. And that was built Townsend as the as the president of the roundtable. And then Hamilton tap as the secretary. He was the secretary for twenty plus years, maybe say nineteen fifty three. Oh, I guess twenty two years. I mean, he was forever. The secretary around able he had a great way with words, which I'll read to you shortly. But. So Edward Dabney who is a banker here in town. The old First National Bank became the treasurer. And they were in the same building is built housing and then the head an executive committee. They put together and get these names Thomas Dyonisis Clark, Tom Clarke, the great story published. Multiple works on Kentucky history. An terrific. Character was one of the he was one of the founding executive committee members of it. Jay Winston, Cullman, Herman dodd-frank Frank rose who is president of Transylvania university. Even Philip Davidson who is president of the university of Louisville, and then Charles farms Lee, who was mayor of Louisville on the executive Willard rouse Gelson that was the crowd that was on the executive committee around any now even today at the meetings are members from Louisville Frankfort long every lurk Sinti, Anna Wease released on the tug fork. So the tradition of traveling to the to the meetings is still from across Kentucky is still it's still it's still mid still maintained. There was there's been something you could tell it as a ten year old attending a meeting downtown. Everyone in. There was one dressed up a number two. They all imbibed before the the meal, which was almost a tradition. It's a ceremoniously imbibed and then sat down for dinner, and we're waited on. They liked to have sit down dinner, and you could tell by just as young kid that these people were one seriously interested in the civil war. They may not know a lot about it. But they're serious interested in learning and they're gentlemen, it was all men then and they were kind to one another. They enjoyed one another's company and that camaraderie. Has been evident throughout the entire life of this organization. Yeah. And it's today persist today, we have men and lots of women who come. Yes. There's still a sense of there's a sense of formality as well as a sense of camaraderie, and it is a great occasion five times a year when people still do that. And like from the very beginning. We do only five meetings a year. This has been a tradition from the very beginning. And we made on in September November January March and may. So if nothing overburdened no-one a Monday night a Monday night. Yeah. And it always to you always depart and a timely way. Never it. It always ends round eight thirty after the speaker and the QNA after the dinners been served speaker gets up. It really is a great occasion move. Yeah. You know, Bill Bill towns died on July twenty fifth nineteen sixty four. Okay. And. The gentleman who became by acclimation, the president of the roundtable on his death was home in Hamilton. And one thing I'll always loved about. This roundtable was the. How well versed in the language all these characters were they really were. You've you heard Bill Townsend. But home in Hamilton was a spectacular rider, a spectacular master of the English language as was Hamilton tap. And the things they wrote about one another about events there. We're we're classic. But this is what Holman Hamilton said at the first meeting of the roundtable after in September after Bill passed away. And he said he said this. Tonight. I would not say a word about the career of William H Townsend or about the charming books. He wrote or the professional triumphs. He scored these are in this fear of common knowledge now appreciation of them has appropriately passed into the public domain and posterity will be earth. Ultimate judge permit me instead to voice for you. What any of you his sincere friends would surely say let it be underscored here. And now that Bill Townsend in this organization built a solid community of spirit and s spray a delightful appreciation of man for man, a brotherliness a rare achievement of. Affection without the slightest sign of affection. This do we not agree is the best in Kentucky. This is friendship. Others might use the very words he used, but those same words would fall lifeless and dull he had a sense of timing a significant pause and awareness of contrast and a flare of drama if Kentucky inns have long combined in an amazingly attractive way characteristics of the earthly and genteel. Here was a man who above all others represented the quintessence of the combination. How rich the heritage how pervasive the influence? How meaningful the tradition? Even we cannot finally say, but who would deny that the colors in the tapestries have Kentucky's historic past seem less likely to fade because a Bill Townsend color, charm, imaginative excursions, tantalizing anecdotes and the zest for reporte. We experienced them all at first hand because we knew it. Ours is a treasure of cultural comradeship with a premium far beyond material calculation, and that salty son of Anderson county is that catalyst to whom we are all indebted like Mark Twain, whom in many ways Bill Townsend so strongly resembles may we not paraphrase the lines of the Australian, poet, Robert Richardson. Warm summer sun shine kindly here. Warm Sud southern wind blow softly here. Green sod above li-, light light good night. Dear friend, goodnight. Goodnight. That's an example, just how incredible. I'm people each list with how beautiful eulogy the most beautiful I ever read ever heard. But that's what he said in that night. The. The the the speaker for the roundtable was the the great historian bell Irvin. Wiley bell. Was a graduate of as berry and got his PHD at Yale. And. Taught it Louisiana state university. And. Then taught at Emory and people like Charlie Roland like Otis single, Terry. Who is president of the university of Kentucky, bud Robertson? They were all students Abell Wiley bell. Wiley was the dean literally the dean of American civil war history. And he wrote not only great books himself. Johnny Ravin, Billy yank to volumes. But he wrote two he edited tons of memoirs and diaries of mostly confederate soldiers because he came from Tennessee and bell was the speaker the night that home and gave that talk and bell got up and before he began his talk. He said built Townsend. Represents to me more of what I love about Kentucky than any human being. I've ever know. What attribute? So. That's a remarkable tribute from Bill. Yeah. Yeah. Wonderful and we've gone through a whole crowd of great presidents. I mean home, and of course, became the president for a significant period of time. I think more than ten years and after Hohmann iae buddy Thompson became president. He is an auction near here in town and real character total character and after him Charlie Roland became president of the roundtable. And of course, we know Charlie Charlie's hundred one year years old this month. He was president from nineteen eighty four until nineteen ninety four and Charlie like Bill Wylie came from east, Tennessee, bell Wiley, love Charlie roll out. He middle issue. But Charlie got his PHD at LSU after getting a master's degree at Vanderbilt, but. Charlie taught at Tulane university. And then became professor of history at the university of Kentucky, and he was above the last of a group of historians at the university all of whom were connected with around table who were among the greatest southern historians in America, one of one of the greatest departments of southern history and in the country and Charlie held forth at the roundtable for for ten years, and Charlie is still is a character. But he carried that torch on through until nineteen ninety four and then James clutter became president. And when he left Jack Cunningham longtime treasure the roundtable took over a lawyer here in town, and then I took over in nineteen two thousand thirteen that's the genealogy. The roundtable the roundtable. Mr. Townsend was something of a poet as well. Your film bourbon in Kentucky begins with a poem. He wrote. That I hope our listeners will look into the film is called bourbon, Kentucky bourbon in Kentucky history distilled. Right. Yeah. And you can see it off and on Kentucky educational television. Yes. And through other forms. I think it's probably. On prime on prime it is. But if you gins with you before portrait of William towns in the old helm place, right reciting, a poem. He wrote about bourbon, right? Yeah. It's a it's a it's a poem. He he wrote about his friend. Jay Winston Cullman. Okay. And without going through all the poem. Yeah. What it is. Talks about how the two of them sit down in front of a fire and talk about Daniel Boone Zachary Taylor, and how they sip are corn. That we'll end this episode the witnessing history education foundation podcast. Thank you. Become an American hero. Who participates in our mission by joining us at witnessing history dot ORG. Download our documentaries and free teacher education materials that conform to grade level education standards at PBS, learning dot ORG follow witnessing history on Facebook, Twitter and linked in.