Kentucky State Militia Colonel Lloyd Tilghman’s meeting with Union Colonel Benjamin M. Prentiss, the commander of the Union Headquarters at Camp Defiance, Cairo, Illinois, on May 6th, 1861.
Source: Chicago Tribune and N.Y. Evening Post, May 11, 1861 recorded in The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, Moore and Everett, Vol 1, Doc. 139, 1861, pgs. 194-195.
Interview Between Colonels Tilghman and Prentiss
Headquarters, Camp Defiance,
Cairo, Ill, May 6, 1861
Colonel Lloyd Tilghman, commanding the western division of Kentucky Militia, including Paducah and Columbus, places that have been considered as menacing our troops here, called, in company with Colonel Prentiss, commandant at this place. The following is the substance of their interview:
Colonel Tilghman-“I have visited you, sir, for the purpose of a little official intercourse with reference to the late questions which have excited the people of Kentucky, and to cultivate, as far as in my power, peaceful relations. Some portions of the public press have erroneously used the name of Kentucky, the name of her organized militia under my command, and my own name, in referring to the hostile movement of troops against you from Tennessee.” (Colonel Tilghman referred to an article in the Louisville Journal, which stated that hostile movements from Tennessee could go through Kentucky only by the aid of troops under Colonel Tilghman’s command. He characterized the statement in severe terms, and said that Kentucky was still in the Union, and had no stronger wish than to remain so.)
Colonel Prentiss – “I can hardly express, gentlemen, how gratifying it is to me to find these the sentiments of all the leading men I have met from your side of the river. I assure you that, so far as I understand the sentiments of my State, my command and myself, those friendly feeling are cordially reciprocated. We must, however, when we understand that certain points in either Kentucky, Tennessee, or Missouri are menacing us, prepare to defend them.”
Colonel Tilghman – “Let me say, in deference to Tennessee, that, so far as her authorities and official acts are concerned, she was, three days ago, in the Union. I have just come from there, where, in an official capacity, I defined to them, firmly and effectually, the policy of my State. She has a mercurial population, like every State, that is hard to control. But I feel fully authorized to say in deference to Governor Harris, with whom I had an interview, and in deference to the State of Tennessee, that there are no hostile menace toward you.”
Colonel Prentiss – “I want you to understand me that, in designating certain points as hostile and menacing, I am far from including the whole State. As to Memphis, I am reliably informed that bodies are arming and drilling with a proposed destination to some place North; and I will say to you frankly, that we are prepared for the attack and await it. But I am inclined to think they are the mob, without official encouragement.”
Colonel Tilghman – “Yes, sir, I feel authorized to express that view of it. The press ought to be restrained in its ready circulation of errors. There is not a word of truth in the statement of there being 12,000 men at Paducah for invasion; or, as to the concentration of troops in any part of Kentucky under my control. As to the recent arrival of arms at Columbus, they were the property of the State. This, as her right, Illinois cannot raise any objection to. Kentucky has her own rights to defend, and no State can do it more powerfully. She is a warm and generous friend, but a hearty enemy. We do not wish war. We are now electing our representatives to Congress, with the intention of holding out the olive branch. But the commerce of Kentucky is large, and our people do not understand how much of it is to be interrupted in transitu. They feel that they cannot ship a barrel of flour without being subjected to this system of espionage, which is entirely inadmissible.”
Colonel Prentiss – “I am instructed to seize no property unless I have information that such property consists of munitions of war, destined to the enemies of the United States Government.”
Colonel Tilghman – “Then you would not consider munitions of war shipped to Kentucky, under her authority, as contraband?”
Colonel Prentiss – “That would depend upon the point whether Columbus is arming and menacing us.”
Colonel Tilghman – “They have not been and are not, allow me to say.”
Colonel Prentiss – “Then I have been misinformed. Generally, there would be no detention of munitions of war destined to the authorities of Kentucky.”
Colonel Tilghman – “The position I wish to assume is, that Kentucky is the peer of Illinois, and would not consent to any thing of the kind, under any pretence (sic) Kentucky probably would never consent to the blockade of the Ohio.”
Colonel Prentiss – “But if, as you say, Kentucky is a loyal State, she would have to allow the blockading of the Ohio. I assure you Illinois would allow it, if required by the General Government. Kentucky has not done her full duty to the Government. She has not furnished her quota of troops upon the demand of the President, in defence (sic) of the national flag; and this shows we are right in apprehending certain disaffected and disloyal communities which rule to some extent the sentiment of the State.”
Colonel Tilghman – “I frankly acknowledge that you have the advantage of me there. But after my intercourse with you, and reassuring you of the groundlessness of your fears in my official capacity, it would be very inconsistent with your previous intimations, for you to credit counter rumors. My dear sir, there are not organized fifty men in Western Kentucky, outside of my command.”
Colonel Prentiss – “As soon as our force is completely organized here, I intend to visit the other side.”
Colonel Tilghman – “We shall receive you with every kindness. The position of Illinois and Kentucky relatively is very delicate, and on that account allow me to say that I hope you will continue in command here. Affairs must be managed on both sides with calmness. I think there is hardly a man in a hundred in the State of Kentucky but would fight for the old Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. I am highly gratified at this interview, and I hope to see yourself and staff over there some day.”
-Chicago Tribune, and N. Y. Evening Post, May 11.