My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans
by Rusty Williams, University Press of Kentucky, 2010, $34.95
THE CIVIL WAR DIDN’T really end until the last of its veterans passed away, well into the 20th century. The fact that so many former Rebels endured as well as they did in their twilight years is particularly intriguing. Fortunately for them, several Southern states, realizing many veterans were apparently receiving unequal treatment from the federal government, stepped in to provide facilities where they could live their final years in relative security and comfort.
In My Old Confederate Home, Rusty Williams writes that perhaps the finest of 16 Confederate homes organized and built between 1887 and 1929 was in Kentucky. It would be the home for some 40,000 ex-Confederates, many suffering from war wounds or lost limbs and what we know today as post-traumatic stress syndrome. Kentuckians were able to acquire a luxurious former resort hotel with wide verandas, park-like grounds and modern amenities on 33 acres in the small village of Pewee Valley, 16 miles east of Louisville.
The Kentucky Confederate Home opened in 1902 to become perhaps the most comfortable and elegant of its kind. Over time, the state government struggled to fund the home and it was closed in July 1934. At the time, only five residents remained.
Williams’ book is not a dry recounting of facts and figures. His primary aim is to tell a “people” story as he explores the lives of those who organized, built and lived in the home. This can sometimes be a bit plodding, but the stories of the veteran residents, lent perspective by the author’s interviews with their descendants, are often fascinating and frequently humorous.
Overall, My Old Confederate Home tells the story of the Confederates’ last refuge—and their own stories—quite well.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.