March 17, 2019
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Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle Toward Freedom

Countless lives were transformed by the war that split the nation, and many stories are yet to be revealed about how the Civil War and the Reconstruction era affected Kentuckians. One such narrative is that of Sandy Holt, who, in the summer of 1864, joined tens of thousands of former slaves and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. He put his life on the line to secure the Union's survival and the end of slavery. Hundreds of miles away in a federal office, Sandy Holt's former owner, Joseph Holt, worked to achieve the same goals. No one could have predicted before the Civil War that these two very different but interconnected Kentuckians would be crucial participants in the Union war effort. Joseph Holt's radical transformation and the contributions of black Kentuckians in the United States Colored Troops have long been underestimated.

In Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community's Struggle toward Freedom, author Elizabeth D. Leonard examines a community of black and white Kentuckians whose lives were intertwined throughout the Civil War era. Bringing new insights into the life and legacy of Breckinridge County native Joseph Holt, Leonard exposes the origins of Holt's evolution from slave owner to member of Lincoln's War Department, where he became a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the enlistment of former bondsmen. Digging deep into Holt's past, Leonard explores the lives of Holt's extended family members and also traces the experiences and efforts of Sandy Holt and other slaves-turned-soldiers from Breckinridge County and its periphery. Many ran from bondage to fight for freedom in the Union army and returned, hoping to claim the promises of Emancipation. The interwoven stories of Joseph and Sandy Holt, and their shared Kentucky community during and after the war, show how a small corner of this border state experienced one of the most defining conflicts in American history.

About the Author

Elizabeth D. Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and the author of five books, including Men of Color to Arms! Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality and Lincoln's Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky, which was joint recipient of the 2012 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.


"Elizabeth Leonard presents an unusual and insightful account of slaveholding Unionist Joseph Holt and the enslaved people of Holt's Bottom, Kentucky. Holt's evolution from Jacksonian Democrat to wartime Judge Advocate General and emancipationist is neatly paired with the story of African Americans in Kentucky and specifically soldiers in the 118th USCT. A deeply contextualized story with great appeal for scholars and general readers alike."—George C. Rable, author of Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South

"Elizabeth Leonard draws on her vast familiarity with Joseph Holt, his extended family, and Kentucky's slaveholding society to offer a compelling study of slavery and freedom during the Civil War era. Black military service, emancipation, struggles for equality, and the reluctance of most white Kentuckians to accept the conflict's transformative effects provide major themes in a complex story."—Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Union War

"In this eye-opening book based on impressive research, Elizabeth D. Leonard weaves together the stories of Kentucky slaveholder Joseph Holt, who as Lincoln's judge advocate general became a powerful supporter of emancipation and equal rights, and one of his former slaves, Sandy Holt, whose service as a soldier in the 118th US Colored Infantry was emblematic of the significant contributions of black troops to the same causes."—James McPherson, author of The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters

"In clear, crisp prose and drawing on remarkable micro-historical research, Leonard unveils how Joseph Holt, who served as President Abraham Lincoln's judge advocate general, evolved from a slaveholder who defended white supremacy to a staunch proponent of the Union, an opponent of the Confederacy, a defender of emancipation and the use of African American soldiers, and black Americans' freedom and rights. Sandy Holt, who fled slavery to join the 118th US Colored Troops, emerged from the war as a free man and played a role in helping to suppress the Confederate rebellion and emancipating his fellow persons of African descent. Leonard's well-argued book underscores the power of race and white supremacy in turbulent postwar Kentucky as well as the promise of change leading to the advancement of African American civil, human, and political rights. An excellent book, one that offers hope of racial reconciliation in our own day."—John David Smith, author of Lincoln and the US Colored Troops

"This is a really good book. With the eye of an intrepid researcher and the touch of a splendid story teller, Elizabeth Leonard reveals how two men named Holt—Joseph, the judge-advocate general of the United States, and Sandy, his property for twenty years—worked, each in his own way, to save the Union and abolish slavery. A marvelous blend of community and personal history that intertwines the worlds of slavery and freedom."—Daniel Sutherland, University of Arkansas

"Some time in the late 1830s Joseph Holt, a Kentucky Democrat and prominent lawyer, purchased an enslaved man from Virginia, named Sandy. Roughly a quarter century later, Holt was Abraham Lincoln's Judge Advocate General, and fully dedicated to supporting emancipation and protecting African Americans, both in and out of uniform. In the summer of 1864, Sandy Holt escaped from slavery and enlisted in Company A of the 118th United States Colored Troops. About three decades later, both men died not far from each other in Kentucky. In this fascinating short volume, Elizabeth Leonard unravels the intertwined lives of these two fascinating men. The story reveals much about race and geography in Civil War era Kentucky. Along the way, Leonard provides students and general readers with a wonderful tutorial about how to uncover the lives of the famous and anonymous, and how to tell their stories."—Matth Gallman, University of Florida

"Leonard's illuminative new book investigates the revolutionary impact brought by emancipation and black military service during the Civil War on the black and white members of the prominent Holt family of Breckinridge County, Kentucky. Her exploration both captivates and enlightens the reader in the complicated, dispiriting, but occasionally inspiring narrative of how freedom shaped the postwar American landscape."—Joan Waugh, coauthor of The American War: A History of the Civil War Era

9780813176666 : slaves-slaveholders-and-a-kentucky-communitys-struggle-toward-freedom-leonard
196 Pages
$50.00 USD

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