Historical Marker #1861 in Scott County remembers General Basil W. Duke, best known for his service to the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also his significant political and literary contributions to Kentucky following the conflict.
Duke was born in Scott County on May 28, 1838. He first entered Centre College in Danville, but spent two years at Georgetown College before studying law at Transylvania University. Duke moved to St. Louis in 1858, seeking opportunities for his law practice after being admitted to the bar. Upon his engagement to Henrietta Hunt Morgan, Duke gained a close friend in his brother-in-law, famed Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. John Hunt Morgan led one of the most famous cavalry units of the war with Basil Duke serving as his right-hand man and second-in-command.
The opposing personalities of the two officers can be credited for much of the success of Morgan's unit; Duke was the analytical brain to Morgan’s impulsiveness. However, Duke's hero-like worship of Morgan meant he rarely spoke against him. Raiding through Kentucky, Tennessee, and neighboring states, Duke and Morgan quickly rose through the army ranks. After the death of his brother-in-law, Duke was appointed colonel and ultimately brigadier general in 1864.
After receiving word of the surrender of several Confederate armies, Duke and his men felt it their duty to continue to support their Confederate brothers still fighting. Therefore, the men marched to North Carolina, where they met the remnants of the Confederate government. Along with escorting Confederate President Jefferson Davis for a time, Duke was also charged with safeguarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold and silver that was the remaining treasury of the Confederacy.
While the Civil War is Duke's major claim to fame, he did lead a successful life afterwards. In 1868, after relocating to Louisville, he again began practicing law. He spent part of 1869 and 1870 in the Kentucky legislature, working mostly for corporations, becoming well-versed in the rights and laws of companies, particularly banks and railways. He also served as the Louisville district commonwealth's attorney for six years, and was employed in the law department of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company.
Duke also became a notable author. His most famous works are memoirs about the war, but he also made contributions to magazines, and wrote a "History of the Bank of Kentucky”(1895), which combined his interests in writing and banking. His final job was as the commissioner of Shiloh National Park in Tennessee from 1895 until his death in 1916.