Before the War of the Rebellion – 1818-1860
To begin to understand the story of Paducah in the Civil War, one needs to envision the city before the war in regards to the early Jacksonian Democratic voting patterns in the Jackson Purchase, and the later rise of Henry Clay’s Whig Party’s influence in McCracken County and Paducah, where the rest of the Purchase remained heavily Democrat. In 1818, the Jackson Purchase treaty with the Chickasaw Indians occurred, almost ten years before Paducah became a town, and because most of the early settlers into the region came from the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee, they had a strong affinity to southerner Andrew Jackson, that lived in Nashville, Tennessee, which was much closer to them than Frankfort, Kentucky that had leaders like Henry Clay. Because the Jackson Purchase was geographically isolated from the rest of Kentucky, due to its being located west of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, this helped the culture remain southern and strongly Democratic. In fact, the region was so Democratic, it was known as the “Democratic Gibraltar” of the state.1
This is the story of how the actions of Cesar Kaskel, a resident of Paducah during the Civil War, lead to the ending of a Union military injustice, that became known as the worst official anti-Semitic action in American history, when Major-General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Orders No. 11 on December 17th, 1862, instructing his officers to expel all the Jews in the military district of western Kentucky, western Tennessee, and Mississippi:1
An Attack may be coming – March 20-24, 1864
After the initial excitement when Confederate General Polk invaded Kentucky to take Hickman and Columbus, General Grant’s taking of Paducah, and the Union successes in the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the region went through the adjustment of being occupied by the Union Army, and because of this, many sympathizers to the Confederates conducted illegal trade to the Confederate Army.
A common story told in the Paducah area is that William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark fame, named Paducah for a Chickasaw chieftain called Chief Paduke, but this is incorrect. Clark was actually referring to a tribe he learned about during his travels exploring the west.
In a letter to his son on April 27, 1827, Clark wrote:
“I expect to go to the mouth of the Tennessee River, and be absent about two weeks. I have laid out a town there and intend to sell some lots in it, the name is Paducah, one of the largest Indian nations known in this country, and now almost forgotten.”
If you have driven down Alben Barkley Drive in Paducah, Kentucky, seen Alben Barkley’s name on the historical markers in town, flew out of Barkley Regional Airport, or spent the day at Barkley Lake, this name will be familiar to you, but do you really know who he was and his accomplishments?
For those that are history enthusiasts living in the area, Alben Barkley Drive brings back the memories of Paducah’s most famous politician, that had a remarkable career in politics in the House of Representatives, as the Majority Leader in the Senate and as the 35th Vice President of the United States with President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953.