Courthouse Burned

Historical Marker #597 in Albany notes the burning of the Clinton County courthouse by guerrillas during the Civil War.

With Kentucky being torn in both its allegiance and its geographical location—between the Ohio River and the seceded states—it is little surprise that a significant amount of destruction came to the state during the Civil War. Occupied by both sides in the first year of the war, Kentucky was far from being free from depredations after Union control was assured in the fall of 1862. Raids by Confederate cavalry and marauding bands of guerrillas wreaked their fair share of damage on the commonwealth's citizens and their communities during the second half of the conflict.

Among the raiders' favorite targets were Kentucky's county courthouses. With civil records usually stored in courthouses, raiders believed that they could help add to the disorder of the Civil War by destroying a county's records. The vast majority of the courthouses burned in the state were the acts of these marauders.

However, at least two of the Kentucky courthouses burned during the Civil War came not through intentional acts of arson, but by accident. Once Union troops gained control of the state in the fall of 1862, many regiments took up residence in the county courthouses of the towns where they were garrisoned. Their selection of courthouses was both practical and symbolic. Courthouses were usually large enough to provide shelter for several companies of men, and being stationed in the seat of local government also provided an additional sense of authority.

While some the courthouses that were victimized during the last several months of the Civil War were a concerted effort by recognized Confederate raiders such as native Kentuckian General Hylan B. Lyon, the courthouse at Albany was burned by guerrillas who roamed the Kentucky-Tennessee border. These lawless vandals typically stole, killed, and burned out of personal spite, and often in response to pre-war grudges, rather than for any practical military goal.

Clinton County's courthouse that was burned during the Civil War was rebuilt in the 1870s. That structure was replaced with a new building in 1895. The 1895 building burned accidentally in 1980, but was quickly replaced.

Images

Clinton County Courthouse

Clinton County Courthouse

A new courthouse was built in Albany in the 1870s after the previous one was burned during the Civil War. That building was replaced by the one shown here, which was built in 1895. This courthouse burned by accident in 1980. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Clinton County Courthouse

Clinton County Courthouse

The 1895 courthouse is shown in this 1954 color photograph. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Guerrilla Raid

Guerrilla Raid

"Rebel Guerilla Raid on a Western Town" by Thomas Nast depicts the tragic episodes that happened too often in Kentucky towns during the Civil War. These scenes of pillage often also included the burning of public buildings such as courthouses and churches. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Clinton County Veterans Memorial

Clinton County Veterans Memorial

This monument on the Clinton County courthouse lawn honors the county's veterans. Photograph courtesy of Tim Talbott. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Courthouse Burned,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 27, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/546.

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