The Civil War has deep-rooted historical ties with Kentucky. Most of Kentucky’s longtime residents are aware of the state’s neutral stance and some of the war’s famous figures born in the Bluegrass. United States President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were both Kentucky natives. Residents have likely heard stories about the famous clash in Perryville, as both sides fought for control of the all-important state. Regardless of what Kentuckians associate the Civil War with, most overlook Louisville’s connection to Fort Sumter, the site of the first battle of the Civil War.
Union General and Civil War Hero Robert Anderson was born on June 14th, 1805, on a 500-acre family estate in Louisville, Kentucky. The estate, known as “Soldiers Retreat”, was built on land granted to Robert’s father and Revolutionary War soldier Richard Clough Anderson Sr. Richard Anderson famously fought in the Battle of Yorktown, the decisive battle in the American Revolution. When Robert grew up, he attended West Point, where he crossed paths with fellow students that would go on to become famous for their service. After graduation, Robert followed in his father’s footsteps by serving his country in the Seminole and Mexican American Wars.
By the time Southern States began to secede in 1861, Anderson was already on path to a successful military career. Robert oversaw Union troops at Ft. Moultrie and Ft. Sumter (near Charleston, South Carolina). The Union General is remembered today for his methodical approach to the First Battle of the Civil War in April 1861. He stood firm, while also striving for peace between forces. Heroically, he had held Ft. Sumter until no resources remained on the island. Surrounded, and with no chance of reinforcements, Robert Anderson was forced to surrender. Even in defeat, he was able to surrender with honor and with no fatalities. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, he was honored at Ft. Sumter for his heroic service to the nation. Unfortunately, the monumental event was overshadowed in American history. On that same day, April 15th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.
Robert Anderson’s legacy is better known in Charleston, SC, than in his hometown of Louisville, KY. The story of his courageous service to his country is told to hundreds of tourists every day at Fort Sumter National Monument. The same cannot be said for his hometown of Louisville. However, his legacy is not completely forgotten about in his hometown. Remnants of the Anderson estate, Soldier’s Retreat, remain today. The Anderson home, finished in 1794, had thick limestone walls, built to provide protection from Native American attacks. The estate was hit with a series of misfortunes in the 19th century. An earthquake damaged the home in 1811 and a lightning strike in 1840 destroyed the home beyond repair.
Ruins of the home were rediscovered in the 1970’s, in present day Hurstbourne. The remains were excavated and used to rebuild the home. The modern reconstruction of the house was commissioned by L. Leroy Highbaugh Jr. near the site of the original Anderson estate in Hurstbourne, Kentucky. The house would later be recognized for its historic value and enlisted on the National Register of Historic Places. This is just one of many National Register listings in the Louisville Metro. I have discussed the criteria and process for National Register nominations in previous articles (Strause, National Register). The reconstructed Soldiers Retreat home and Anderson family cemetery lie nestled within a mile of the Strause Law Group’s Louisville Office. A historical marker stands erect near the site of Soldier’s Retreat. The sign tells the significance of the location and the achievements of Robert Anderson. The marker sits off busy South Hurstbourne Parkway. Hundreds of people unknowingly pass the marker each day. However, those who take the time to read the marker are likely to come to a new understanding of the surrounding area and its surprising connection to the Civil War.
* Research Associate, Strause Law Group, PLLC.
Elson, Martha. “Celebrating Our History: Maj. Robert Anderson.” Journal, 17 Aug. 2014, www.courier-journal.com/story/news/history/river-city-retro/2014/08/15/celebrating-history-maj-robert-anderson-fort-sumter-hero/14115637/.
“History of Hurstbourne.” City of Hurstbourne, 2 July 2018, www.hurstbourne.org/history-of-hurstbourne/.
“Hurstbourne.” Historic Louisville Guide, historiclouisville.com/hurstbourne/. Accessed 6 July 2023.
“Robert Anderson (Civil War).” Wikipedia, 3 July 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Anderson_(Civil_War).
“Robert Anderson.” American Battlefield Trust, www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/robert-anderson. Accessed 6 July 2023.
Searles, Harry. “Robert Anderson, Biography, Significance, Civil War, Fort Sumter.” American History Central, 28 May 2023, www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/robert-anderson/.
Soldier’s Retreat – Ky Historical Society, history.ky.gov/markers/soldiers-retreat. Accessed 6 July 2023.
“Soldier’s Retreat Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, 9 Jan. 2022, www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=161982.