One Saturday morning years ago, my high school history teacher called to ask if I would accompany him to a family cemetery in Hopkins County. He wanted to find the Thomas Hobgood Cemetery. This is the teacher that awakened in me a love for history; it was because of him that I had decided to major in history in college.
I waited for him on my front porch in Dixon until he tooled up our long, gravel driveway in his ancient MG. I hopped in and we drove through the town of Dixon, turning right onto the Manitou Road toward Madisonville.
Ever the teacher, while he drove, Hugh Ridenour told me the story of Thomas Hobgood, an unreconstructed Rebel soldier fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. After the War, Hobgood continued to bemoan the Lost Cause, a particular version of the South before the war featuring the enslavement of four million African Americans. Of course, the “moonlight and magnolias” or the “Gone with the Wind” version of slavery took root in the South and certainly in Kentucky after the War. This view put forward such movies as “Gone with the Wind” and earlier “Birth of the Nation,” and glorified the institution of slavery, picturing the slaves as docile creatures always treated well back home on the plantation.
Historians such as Herbert Aptheker have demolished this view of slavery by documenting over 200 slave revolts in the South during the colonial period alone. Why would slaves revolt and seek freedom if they were treated so well by their Southern masters?
Although over 100,000 Kentuckians fought for the Union (including over 23,000 African Americans) during the War, and only 40,000 fought for the Confederacy, and although Kentucky, a slave state stayed in the Union throughout the War, historian E. Merton Coulter famously wrote that Kentucky seceded from the Union after the War.
Thomas Hobgood was an example of a western Kentucky Confederate who continued to fight the war until he died in the 1880s. My teacher, Hugh Ridenour, had read Hobgood documents in the Hopkins County Historical Society including his will. Hobgood had stated in his will that when he died he wished to be laid out North and South with his head toward the South.
You know that most cemeteries dig graves with the dead laid out east and west. So my high school history teacher had called me up that particular Saturday morning to do a little detective work. We would find the Hobgood Cemetery in Hopkins County and see if Thomas Hobgood’s wishes had been carried out.
About hallway between Dixon and Madisonville, my teacher pulled over on the Manitou Road and parked in high grass on the road’s shoulder. He apparently knew the cemetery’s location. We got out of the car and waded through a woods with a blanket of periwinkle vines to reach the cemetery. When we arrived we found a small plot with a dozen or so graves.
We studied the headstones and all of the graves in the cemetery had been laid out East and West . . . save one. When we found Thomas Hobgood’s grave we found it placed oddly cattycornered to all the other graves with the headstone pointing toward the South. Even his wife’s grave was laid out East and West. Only Thomas Hobgood’s grave stretched out South and North.
A great teacher and story-teller, Hugh Ridenour waited until we had found the grave to tell me the rest of story. Thomas Hobgood had not only indicated in his will that he wished to be laid out South and North, he also instructed that he be buried with his rifle by his side.
Furthermore, he stated that his instructions would allow him to rise up on Resurrection morning firing toward those “Yankees to the north.” Thomas Hobgood was an unreconstructed rebel till his dying day and beyond.
Duane Bolin is Professor Emeritus of History at Murray State University. Contact Duane at firstname.lastname@example.org.