Bright Wings to Fly
An Appalachian Family in the Civil War

by Bruce Hopkins

Roanoke Times
Appalachian Heritage

New Southerner

ISBN 1893239551  $16.00  

Wind Publications
600 Overbrook Dr
Nicholasville, KY 40356

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In 2003, Bruce Hopkins uncovered more than his ancestors' bones when his family cemetery was moved for road construction. As a result of that experience, Hopkins wrote Spirits in the Field which introduced the reader to nearly 200 years of his family history, and which was, in microcosm, a history of the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky.

Hopkins returns to the Civil War era in Bright Wings to Fly, the first book of a trilogy that deals with three great periods of Eastern Kentucky history.  Bright Wings tells of the struggles of mountain families, broken and in poverty, as they attempt to cope with and recover from tragedy and loss that had been unimaginable prior to the Civil War.

In the next two books, Hopkins will deal with the coming of the great coal camps and the impact of industrialization on mountain life, and conclude with the dangers facing the very soul of the mountaineers as the last "easy" coal is removed and the scourge of mountaintop removal inches its way across the coalfields. Throughout all his books,  however, the ghosts of his ancestors watch as their descendants struggle with the realities of a modern age in a region that has been aptly described as a "national sacrifice area."

Excerpt from the book -- 

   John Cabell Breckinridge, the youngest vice president of the United States and the man who almost became its sixteenth president, came to Pike County in September of 1861, truly as a fugitive. After losing the election of 1860, he was elected senator by the Kentucky Legislature and went back to Washington in the waning days of his vice-presidency to oversee the certification of the election of Abraham Lincoln and to take his new seat in Congress. For a full term, he sat in the hall he once presided over and attempted to rebind the Union that had been shattered the previous year.
     After Congress concluded its business in August, Breckinridge left Washington and returned to Lexington, doubly depressed at what he perceived as his failure to head off the War and his own role in triggering the rush to secession. He had argued sensibly and comported himself honorably, but as his train passed the Manassas battlefield, where the dead offered no valedictory to his efforts, he gave up his last hope of reconciliation.
     He had planned to leave office and live out his life as a private citizen, but he had little time to ponder his future. He had barely unpacked his trunks when he received word that federal troops were on their way to arrest him for treason. He then realized that he could no longer be a voice for peace, for men were dying now, and he could not in good conscience turn his back on the spirit that led them into battle. Most awful to him, he knew he helped create that spirit.
     With a good friend and two ancient horses, Breckinridge slipped away from Lexington under cover of darkness and rode hard into the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. He had other options; he could have ridden south or west, yet he came to the hills and spent his last three days as a citizen of the United States in Pike County.