Born in Virginia but raised from an early age in Kentucky, Henry Cornelius Burnett was a lawyer by profession. Some would say a good start. Some not so much. After a stint in public office as a circuit court clerk, he was elected to and eventually served four terms representing Kentucky in the USA House of Representatives. Later he continued to represent Kentucky but as a member of the CSA[1] House of Representatives.

He was your typical mid-nineteenth century knuckle dragger. An all-around first-class racist slave owner. George D. Prentice, a pro-Unionist editor who built the Louisville Journal into a newspaper powerhouse described him as “a big, burly, loud-mouthed fellow who is forever raising points of order and objections, to embarrass the Republicans in the House.”

He was thought of as “passionate” regarding his policies and politics in general by those who, of course, admired the “Southern Cause”. His campaign platform included a promise to arraign Lincoln (and I imagine to “lock him up”) for treason.

Kentucky was officially a neutral state during the war. That didn’t stop Burnett, who represented the pro-secessionist 1st District, from forming a militia unit sympathetic to the Southern cause. Although having no previous military experience, he became a Colonel in the 8th Kentucky Infantry. After the Union occupied the state to prevent further acts of secession, Henry, never one to shy away from violence except when it put him personally at risk (his entire military career consisted of one battle that the Gray Team lost) advocated for actions amounting to what we would call today guerilla warfare against the “Lincoln guns” and their supporters.

In the event Kentucky continued to refuse to secede, he and his fellow rebels began plotting to annex the entire 1st District to and align itself with the runaway state of Tennessee. He was part of a cabal that tried to initiate a Confederate Kentucky government within the already existing Pro-Union Kentucky. Neither of these events ever happened. Eventually, HCB was expelled from Congress for disloyalty to the Union and taking up arms against the United States. As the war dragged on, and the South continued to lose, he became more radical, at one point calling into question Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ loyalty as he was a graduate of the Yankee military academy West Point.

After the war, he asked for clemency from former Vice President, now President and fellow racist Andrew Johnson. Johnson ignored him. Henry was later criminally indicted, but never prosecuted for treason, the reason why unknown. In his remaining years H.C. Burnett, Esq. remained in Kentucky and returned to the practice of law. He died of cholera. He was 40 years old.

HCB, his plain tombstone showing evidence of his Confederate past, did not live to see Kentucky leave the Union. I never thought we would either, but here we are. Too bad Henry didn’t think about asking a Russian oligarch for an investment in an aluminum plant. Seems to have done the trick quite nicely.

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[1] Confederate States of America