Throwback Thursday – A Russellville House Divided: the Crittenden Brothers

The Kentucky state motto is, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and such was the case for the Crittenden family in Logan County during the mid-1800s. The Russellville natives were a prominent family known for the patriarch’s politics as Kentucky’s 15th governor, yet they had two sons whose Civil War loyalties proved to divide the household.

George Bibb Crittenden was the firstborn son of Sarah and John J. Crittenden. Born in 1812, his grandfather was a major in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and his parents wanted him to have a disciplinary military upbringing. After graduating West Point in 1832, George was appointed to the Infantry, served during the Black Hawk War, and served in the West fighting Apaches before returning east. He developed sympathy for the southern cause by the onset of the Civil War, and took a Brigadier General appointment in the Confederate Army. Confederate President Jefferson Davis asked him to lead charges through the Cumberland Gap to take his home state of Kentucky. But things did not go well for George, as his trouble with alcoholism led to poor leadership. He resigned his commission and spent the rest of the war in quiet.

Meanwhile, his brother Thomas Leonidas Crittenden was a Union General. Born in 1819 and also a military mind, Thomas was a Major General in the Kentucky militia by 1860. He was named Brigadier General at the start of the war, and commanded the 5th Division of the Army of the Ohio, leading major battles at Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Cold Harbor. A fort was named after Thomas, he served as the Kentucky state treasurer after the war, and was then named a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army before retiring in 1881. His son, John Jordan Crittenden III, was also in the Army, and fell with Lieutenant Colonel Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

The patriarch of the Russellville family was a Union supporter and made it well known, yet used his politics to make sure the family name wasn’t besmirched from these brothers divided.