- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Civil War buffs from across the country come here, drawn by a towering monument that marks the birthplace of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Many of the same people who ride the elevator up the 351-foot-tall spire at Fairview also will visit a quaint one-room log home about 100 miles away near Hodgenville, a replica of the cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born.

Having supplied native sons as presidents and soldiers to both the Union and Confederacy, Kentucky remains a state divided, wrestling with its regional identity perhaps more than any other.

It all comes back to the Civil War, when Kentucky was a slave state that didn’t secede. The symbols of that straddling are all around, with 72 Confederate memorials in Kentucky and just two to Union soldiers. To this day, whether people consider themselves Southerners or not depends on whom you ask.

“I feel very blessed to be a Southerner,” said David “Butch” Chaltas, a schoolteacher in Appalachian Kentucky who portrays Gen. Robert E. Lee in Civil War re-enactments.

Mr. Chaltas, commander of the Whitesburg chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said people who live in the mountains of Kentucky are decidedly Southern and are proud of traits such as friendliness toward neighbors and hospitality to visitors, which have been passed down through generations.

“It’s something that we cherish and something that we still live,” he said. “If we don’t live it, we’ve lost our identity.”

University of Kentucky history professor Ronald Eller asks his students each year whether they consider themselves Southerners. The results are always the same: Students from rural Kentucky communities identify with the South, and urban students identify with the North.

“The larger question is why people want to perpetuate these identities in the first place.”

For whatever reason, they are indeed perpetuated, said Mark Doss, superintendent of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, which draws about 30,000 visitors a year.

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