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Basil Wilson Duke
[[Image:File:Basil W. Duke.jpg|center|200px|border]]'
Personal Information
Born: May 28, 1838(1838-05-28)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: September 16, 1916 (aged 78)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Brigadier General
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Unit: 2nd Kentucky Cavalry
9th Kentucky Cavalry
Commands: Morgan's Raiders
Battles: American Civil War
Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Basil Wilson Duke (May 28, 1838 – September 16, 1916) was a Confederate general officer during the American Civil War. His most noted service in the war was as second-in-command for his brother-in-law John Hunt Morgan; Duke would later write a popular account of Morgan's most famous raid: 1863's Morgan's Raid. He took over Morgan's command after Morgan was shot by Union soldiers in 1864. At the end of the war, Duke was among Confederate President Jefferson Davis's bodyguards after his flight from Richmond, Virginia through the Carolinas.

Duke's lasting impact was as a historian and communicator of the Confederate experience. As a historian he helped to found the Filson Club Historical Society and started the preserving of the Shiloh battlefield. He wrote numerous books and magazine articles, most notably in the Southern Bivouac. When he died, he was one of the few high-ranking Confederate officers still alive. Historian James A. Ramage said of Duke, "No Southerner was more dedicated to the Confederacy than General Basil W. Duke".[1]

Early life and career[]

Basil Wilson Duke was born in Scott County, Kentucky, on May 28, 1838; the only child of Nathaniel W. Duke and his wife, the former Mary Pickett Currie. He was Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff2, slightly-built, with a resonant voice.[2] A relative described him as "essentially a man of the 17th century, that century in half armor, torn between chivalry and realism".[3][4]

Duke's parents died during his childhood: Mary, when Basil was eight, and Nathaniel when Basil was 11; save for an instance in his Reminiscences, he seldom mentioned them. He attended Georgetown College (1853–1854) and Centre College (1854–1855), before studying law at Lexington, Kentucky's Transylvania University. After graduating in 1858, he went to St. Louis, Missouri in 1858 to practice law, as his older cousin, also named Basil Duke, was practicing law there, and there were already a multitude of lawyers in Lexington.[5][6]

Civil War service[]

File:Basil W Duke 2.JPG

Basil W. Duke

When the American Civil War started in 1861, Duke was still in Missouri, where he helped in the initial forays for Missouri's secession from the United States. (Missouri would have both Federal and Confederate governments during the War.) On January 7, 1861, he and four others created Minute Men, a pro-secession organization, in response to many pro-Northern politicians being recently elected in St. Louis. Duke quickly becoming the leader, despite being only 23 years old. He formed five companies, and sought to acquire the federal arsenal in St. Louis for the secessionist movement. He made a habit of placing secessionist flags at prominent locations, looking to start fights with pro-Union forces. At one point, Duke managed to obtain four cannon for the Minute Men to use, only for the cannon to be captured by Union soldiers soon afterward. He would eventually be indicted for arson and treason.[7][8][9]

He moved back to Lexington, Kentucky, in April 1861 in order to marry Henrietta Hunt Morgan, sister of John Hunt Morgan. They were married on June 19, 1861. Duke would return to Missouri to help Confederate forces in Missouri, but would eventually return to Kentucky at Brigadier General William J. Hardee's insistence. By October 1861, he would enlist in his brother-in-law's (Morgan's) command as a private, but would be elected as a Second Lieutenant.[7][10][11]

File:Bardstown Basil Duke marker.jpg

Marker in Bardstown, Kentucky denoting Basil Duke's December 1862 injury

He was twice wounded. At the Battle of Shiloh, he was swinging at a Union soldier when he was shot in the left shoulder by a Brown Bess musket, exiting his right shoulder, barely missing his spine. After this, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and a few months later a full colonel. At Elizabethtown, Kentucky's Rolling Fork River during Morgan's Christmas Raid of 1862 he was hit by a shell fragment while leading the back guard as the rest of Morgan's men crossed a stream on December 29, 1862; his men initially assumed he was dead.[7][9][10][12]

Duke was the principal trainer for mounted combat for Morgan's Raiders. He participated in Morgan's Raid, during which he was captured at the Battle of Buffington Island on July 19, 1863, leading troops in a delaying tactic which allowed other Confederate forces to escape across the Ohio River with Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson, or further into the state of Ohio with Morgan.[7][10]

Duke would remain in captivity until August 3, 1864, where he was exchanged. He could have escaped from the Ohio State Penitentiary with Morgan and Thomas Hines, but felt that to do so would hurt the chances of the escapees, as Morgan was easily replaced in his cell by his brother, but no similar replacement was there for Duke. After Morgan was killed, Duke assumed command of Morgan's forces on September 15, 1864, being promoted to brigadier general. He was with Confederate President Jefferson Davis when Davis left Richmond. Duke was in the final Confederate war council at the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville, South Carolina, on May 2, 1865. Duke surrendered to Union officials on May 10, 1865, in Washington, Georgia.[10][13][14]

As an officer, Duke's way of "gently ordering" soldiers under his command allowed him to have friendly relations with his men. He loved fighting, was steadfast during difficult moments in conflicts, and described as a "spit-and-polish" officer.[1]


File:Basil Duke older.JPG

Basil. W. Duke in his later years

After the war, Duke moved to Louisville, Kentucky in March 1868, where he would live for most of his remaining life. He returned to practicing law later that year, with his primary client being the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He served as their chief counsel and lobbyist, despite the L&N Railroad being a favorite victim of Morgan's raiders during the war. He briefly serve in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1869 to 1870, resigning as he felt a conflict of interest being a lobbyist for the L&N. Duke also served as the Fifth Judicial District's commonwealth attorney from 1875 to 1880.[2][7][10][15]

Duke became greatly involved in writing the history of the Civil War and related topics. He helped to found Louisville's Filson Club (now The Filson Historical Society) in 1884, writing many of their early papers. From 1885 to 1887 he edited the magazine Southern Bivouac. He also wrote three books: History of Morgan's Cavalry (1867), History of the Bank of Kentucky, 1792-1895 (1895), and Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke (a collection of various magazine articles he wrote) (1911).[10] A prominent writer of the Southern experience, he neither advocated slavery, nor apologized for it; thinking it was a good thing it was abolished, but that Northern claims of excessive abuse of slaves was exaggerated.[16]

File:Basil Duke Grave.jpg

Basil W. Duke's grave. John Hunt Morgan's grave is the white one behind Duke's

After 1900, Duke began to withdraw from his public career. By 1903 he ceased doing work for the L&N. In 1904 he was appointed commissioner of Shiloh National Military Park by President Theodore Roosevelt, due to having been introduced to each other at the Filson Club. Duke was devastated when, on October 20, 1909, his wife of fifty years, Tommie, died of sudden heart failure. Afterward, he lived with his daughter Julia and her family in Louisville's Cherokee Park. Duke was one of the last living, high-ranking Confederates. In his final years he spent much of his time handling requests made by those with questions about the Confederacy, even during the time he was recovering from cataract surgery in 1914. Duke died on September 16, 1916 while visiting his daughter, Mary Currie, in Massachusetts. He had undergone surgery in a New York City hospital, first to have his right foot amputated on September 1, and then have his right leg amputated at the knee on September 11. He is buried in front of John Hunt Morgan in the Hunt family plot at the Lexington Cemetery. His lasting fame is as a writer of Confederate military history.[7][17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Duke p.xiii
  2. 2.0 2.1 Matthews p.xiii
  3. Brown pp.27, 28
  4. Christensen p.264
  5. Kleber pp.256, 257
  6. Matthews pp.12,16-18
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Heidler p.625
  8. Matthews pp.24, 25
  9. 9.0 9.1 Duke p.xiv
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Kleber p.257
  11. Matthews p.34
  12. Brown pp.50, 153
  13. Brown p.242
  14. Christensen p.265
  15. Duke p.489
  16. Matthews p.16
  17. Matthews pp.297,300-304

See also[]


  • Brown, Dee Alexander (1959). The Bold Cavaliers. White Mane Publishing Co.. ISBN ASIN B0013APBE6. 
  • Christensen, Lawrence O. (1999). Dictionary of Missouri Biography. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0826212220. 
  • Duke, Basil W. (2001). The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.. Cooper Square Publishers, Incorporated. ISBN 081541174X. 
  • Heidler, David (2002). Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039304758X. 
  • Kleber, John E. (2001). Encyclopedia of Louisville. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813121000. 
  • Matthews, Gary (2005). Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place. University Press of Kentucky.. ISBN 0813123755. 

Further reading[]

External links[]


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