KY National Guard History eMuseum

Kentucky's Military Governors

Submitted by John M. Trowbridge

NOTE: Biographical Information and portraits for all of Kentucky's Governors available at: External Transfer Icon

Service to Country and Commonwealth

Isaac Shelby
Governor of Kentucky: 1792 - 1796, 1812 - 1816.
Military Service: Lord Dunmore's War, Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812. Shelby gained his initial military experience in Lord Dunmore's War and the American Revolution. During the Revolution; in 1774, served at the Battle of Point Pleasant; 1776, appointed captain of a company of militia by the Virginia committee of safety; 1777, appointed by Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia commissary of supplies for a body of militia detailed to garrison frontier posts; 1778, aided in furnishing supplies for the Continental Army, and for General McIntosh's expedition against Detroit; 1779, provided boats and supplies for General George Rogers Clark's Illinois campaign; 1780, commanded a company, seeing action at Fort Anderson and Musgrove's Mill. He is best remembered as one of the heroes of the Battle of King's Mountain, South Carolina, 7 October 1780. In 1781, fought in various battles, including the capture of the strong British fort at Fair Lawn, in South Carolina. While serving his second term as govern or, in 1813, Shelby raised 3,500 Kentucky troops, which he personally led to join General William Henry Harrison's army. The sixty-two-year-old governor was active at the Battle of the Thames on 5 October 1813, when the British and their Indian allies were decisively defeated, and the Indian leader Tecumseh, was killed.

Governor Isaac Shelby Presented Congressional Gold Medal Posthumously

James Garrard
Governor of Kentucky: 1796 - 1804
Military Service: Revolutionary War. In 1781, served as Colonel in the Stafford County Regiment of the Virginia Militia.

Christopher Greenup
1750? - 1818
Governor of Kentucky: 1804 - 1808
Military Service: Revolutionary War. Initially served as a Lieutenant in the Continental Line, than as a Colonel of Militia.

Charles Scott
1739 -1813
Governor of Kentucky: 1808 - 1812
Military Service: French and Indian Wars, Revolutionary War, and Indian Campaigns. 1755-1775, in 1755, he was a noncommissioned officer (corporal) in Braddock's ill-fated expedition. Promoted to Captain, commanded companies of volunteers in the French and Indian Wars. He led the first company raised south of the James River for the Revolutionary War. Promoted to Colonel on 12 August 1776. 2 April 1777, promoted to Brigadier General in Continental Army; 1777-78, at Valley Forge; 1783, Brevetted Major General. He rendered gallant service at Trenton and Germantown and was the last to leave the field at Monmouth, New Jersey. He took part in the storming of Stony Point, New York on 15 July 1779. His last service in the Revolution was at Charleston, South Carolina; in the fall of that city he was captured and held prisoner for two years. In 1790, with Harmar's Expedition against the Scioto Indians; 1791, served as a member of the Board of War and Commander of the Kentucky District; 1791, saw service against Indians and was with St. Clair at his defeat, 4 November 1791; 25 June 1792, appointed Major General, 2nd Division, Kentucky Militia; 1793, joined General "Mad" Anthony Wayne with 1000 men for an expedition which was abandoned; 1794, headed volunteers at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

George Madison
1763 1816
Governor of Kentucky: 1816
Military Service: Revolutionary War, Indian Campaigns, and the War of 1812. Served in the Militia during the American Revolutionary War, before he was of age. Twice wounded during the Indian Campaigns: 1791, wounded at St. Clair's Defeat at the head of his company. In 1792, again wounded when the Indians attacked Major John Adair's camp. During the War of 1812, served as Major, First Rifle Regiment, Kentucky Militia. Captured at the Battle of Frenchtown (18 January 1813), held as a prisoner until his release in 1814.

Gabriel Slaughter
1767 - 1830
Governor of Kentucky: 1816 - 1820
Military Service: Corn Stalk Militia and the War of 1812. 17 December 1802, appointed Major, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, Kentucky Militia. 10 November 1814, Lieutenant Colonel, Slaughter's Regiment, Kentucky Detached Militia. Commanded his regiment at the Battle of New Orleans - the only Kentucky regiment that participated as a whole in the battle. It was his regiment, with Major Harrison's battalion of Mitchusson's regiment and Carroll's Tennesseans, occupying the center and left center of the long American line, that stood the full brunt of the fierce and desperate attacks of the British, and won that incomparable victory. Slaughter received special thanks of the Legislature for his gallantry on the field.

John Adair
1757 - 1840
Governor of Kentucky: 1820 - 1824
Military Service: Revolutionary War, Indian Campaigns, Corn Stalk Militia, and the War of 1812. During the Revolutionary War served as a Major of the South Carolina Line. Taken as a prisoner of war by the British during the war. In the Indian Campaigns of 1791-93, was Major of Volunteers in an expedition against the Indians under General St. Clair and General Wilkinson; 1793, Lieutenant Colonel of the Mercer County Regiment (5th Regiment), Kentucky Militia. 25 February 1797 promoted to Brigadier General, 2nd Brigade, Kentucky Militia. On 16 December 1799, promoted to Major General, 2nd Division, Kentucky Militia. In 1813, during the War of 1812, he was an aide to Governor Shelby, and was engaged in that capacity in the Battle of the Thames was highly complimented for his bravery during that campaign. Served as the Adjutant General of Kentucky, 1814 to 1817, with the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. While serving as Adjutant General Adair commanded the Kentuckians at the Battle of New Orleans. The controversy he held with General Andrew Jackson, brought forth by the imputation upon the conduct of the Kentucky troops by Jackson, established Adair in great favor in Kentucky, and largely influenced his election to Governor of the State, in 1820.

Joseph Desha
1768 - 1842
Governor of Kentucky: 1824 - 1828
Military Service: Indian Campaigns, Corn Stalk Militia, and the War of 1812. In 1794, served in the Indian Campaigns of General Anthony Wayne and General William Henry Harrison. 23 January 1798, appointed Major, 29th Regiment, Kentucky Militia. 23 March 1799, Colonel, 29th Regiment, Kentucky Militia. 5 September 1805, Brigadier General, 7th Brigade, Kentucky Militia. 24 December 1806, Major General, 7th Brigade, Kentucky Militia. During the War of 1812, was appointed Major General of Volunteers under William Henry Harrison at the Battle of the Thames.

Thomas Metcalfe
1780 - 1855
Governor of Kentucky: 1828 - 1832
Military Service: Corn Stalk Militia and the War of 1812. 2 October 1801 served as Lieutenant, 29th Regiment, Kentucky Militia. 12 October 1802, Captain, 29th Regiment, Kentucky Militia. War of 1812: 29 March to 28 April 1812, Captain, Metcalf's Company, William E. Boswell's Regiment, Kentucky Detached Militia. 6 March 1813 to 6 September 1813, commander of Company of Volunteers and led his command at the Battle of Fort Meigs.

Charles Anderson Wickliffe
1788 - 1869
Governor of Kentucky: 1839 - 1840
Military Service: War of 1812. In 1812, served as aide-de-camp to General Joseph Winlock, First Regiment, Kentucky Mounted Militia. 24 August 1813 enlisted with Captain Martin H. Wickliffe's Company, as a private. 2 September 1813 promoted to aide-de-camp to General Caldwell, Kentucky Militia.

Robert Perkins Letcher
1788 - 1861
Governor of Kentucky: 1840 - 1844
Military Service: War of 1812. 5 October 1812, served as Judge Advocate to Lieutenant Colonel James Allen's Regiment of Kentucky Mounted Volunteer Militia.

William Owsley
1782 - 1862
Governor of Kentucky: 1844 - 1848
Military Service: Corn Stalk Militia. 30 March 1802, appointed Adjutant of the 26th Regiment, Kentucky Militia.

John Jordan Crittenden
1787 - 1863
Governor of Kentucky: 1848 - 1850
Military Service: Corn Stalk Militia and the War of 1812. 9 January 1811, aide-de-camp, 1st Division, Kentucky Militia. During the War of 1812, he served as aide to General Samuel Hopkins and then to General Isaac Shelby. He was with Shelby at the Battle of the Thames.

Thomas Elliott Bramlette
1817 - 1875
Governor of Kentucky: 1863 - 1867
Military Service: Civil War, USA. 7 August 1861, Bramlette accepted a Colonel's commission in the Federal Army, raised the 3rd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which he commanded in violation of Kentucky's neutrality agreement with the Federal Government. 13 July 1862, he resigned from the Army at Decherd, Tennessee. On 24 April 1863, he is offered a commission as a Brigadier General, which he declines to become Governor.

James Bennett McCreary
1838 - 1918
Governor of Kentucky: 1875 - 1879, 1911 - 1915
Military Service: Civil War, CSA. 10 September 1862, enlisted as a private soldier in the 11th Regiment Cavalry, Kentucky Volunteers, CSA, and promoted to Major. On 4 July 1863, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. He fought at the Battle of Hartsville, Tennessee with John Hunt Morgan's command. Captured at Cheshire, Ohio, during one of Morgan's raids. Imprisoned at the Ohio penitentiary and later at Morris Island, South Carolina, where he was exchanged and went on to serve the remainder of the war with General J. C. Breckinridge's command.

Luke Pryor Blackburn
1816 - 1887
Governor of Kentucky: 1879 - 1883
Military Service: Civil War, CSA. Served as a surgeon under Confederate General Sterling Price. Later as a Confederate agent in Canada. Dr. Blackburn, a leading American authority on yellow fever, in April 1864, when the fever broke out in Bermuda volunteered his services. He stayed until late October, when the disease abated. Allegedly, Blackburn packed a number of trunks with infected clothing from disease victims and shipped the trucks to several northern cities and army bases to be sold as secondhand clothing. One trunk reportedly went to Union-controlled New Bern, NC, where, during the summer of 1864, an epidemic broke out and killed more than 2,000 soldiers and civilians. Godfrey Joseph Hyams, a Union informer of dubious reputation, provided details of the plot and claimed to have been working for Blackburn when he delivered infected clothes to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and Norfolk. In the spring of 1865, Northern newspapers printed hysteria-producing reports about an alleged diabolical Southern plot to infect northern cities and armies with yellow fever. Newspapers viewed the plot as an "outrage against humanity" and called Blackburn a "monster" and an "inhuman wretch." He was arrested in Canada charged with conspiracy to commit murder, but was acquitted by a Canadian court in October 1865, because of lack of evidence. No further action was taken against him. During this time the cause of the disease was unknown, but it was believed to be transmitted through contact with infected persons or their personal possessions. It was later learned that a certain type of mosquito only transmits yellow fever. Blackburn did not return to Kentucky until 1872.

Simon Bolivar Buckner
1823 - 1914
Governor of Kentucky: 1887 - 1891
Military Service: Mexican War and the Civil War - CSA. Served in US Army from 1844 to 1855, graduated from U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1844. In 1845, Professor of Ethics at West Point. During the Mexican War, Buckner served under General Winfield Scott. Returned to West Point in 1848 to teach, serving as Assistant Professor in Infantry Tactics. In 1855, resigned from the Army. Organized the Kentucky State Guard, 1859-60. In 1860, wrote the Kentucky Militia Bill. Served as Inspector General of the Kentucky State Guard, 1860-61, with the rank of Major General. In 1861, tried to preserve Kentucky's neutrality, when that failed he rejected a Union commission, becoming a Brigadier General, in the Confederate Army, 15 September 1861. Led troops to Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1861. In February 1862, fought at Fort Donelson, following three days of fighting surrendered. Following exchange was promoted to Major General, saw extensive service in the western theater of the war, including the Confederate invasion of Kentucky in 1862. Following the Kentucky Campaign placed in charge of the defense of Mobile, Alabama. In spring of 1863, commanded Department of East Tennessee; commanded two divisions at the Battle of Chickamauga. Sent to the Trans-Mississippi Theater in 1864, Surrendered on 26 May 1865.

Edwin Porch Morrow
1877 - 1935
Governor of Kentucky: 1919 - 1923.
Military Service: Spanish-American War, enlisted 16 June 1898, at Albany, Kentucky, as a Private with Company I, 4th Regiment, Kentucky Infantry. Absent sick at Somerset, Kentucky, 7 July to 28 September 1898. Mustered in 28 September 1898, Anniston (Camp Shipp), Alabama, as a Second Lieutenant. Sick during the period 19-22 October to 2 November 1898. AWOL, 21-30 December 1898. Discharged, 12 February 1899, at Anniston, Alabama.

Albert Benjamin Chandler
1898 - 1991
Governor of Kentucky: 1935 - 1939, 1955 - 1959
Military Service: World War I. Inducted at Lexington, Kentucky, on 5 October 1918. A student with the rank of Private attending the Army Training Camp at Transylvania College (University). Honorably discharged at Lexington, Kentucky, on 20 December 1918.

Keen Johnson
1896 - 1970
Governor of Kentucky: 1939 - 1943
Military Service: World War I. In 1917, entered first Reserve Officers' Training Camp at Fort Riley, Kansas, from 15 May 1917, to 14 August 1917. 15 August 1917 commissioned Second Lieutenant, Infantry. Assigned to Company B, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Force. Promoted to First Lieutenant, 31 December 1917. On 4 June 1918, sent overseas, placed on detached service at the School of the Line, Langres, France, 30 July 1918. Detailed to the Army General Staff College, Langres, on 2 October 1918. Ordered to Combat Officers Replacement Depot, 9 January 1919. Returned to the United States 28 April 1919, as a casual, unassigned. 5 May 1919 assigned to recruiting duty at Camp Dix, New Jersey. Assigned to the 45th Infantry on 24 September 1919. Honorably discharged at Camp Dix, New Jersey, 31 October 1919, by reason of demobilization of the emergency forces.

Earle Chester Clements
1896 - 1985
Governor of Kentucky: 1947 - 1950
Military Service: World War I. Enlisted 9 July 1917, as a Private in Company M, 1st Infantry (Louisville Legion) Kentucky National Guard. Discharged 26 November 1917, to accept officer's commission. On 27 November 1917, promoted to First Lieutenant, assigned to 333rd Infantry. 18 December 1917, assigned as an Instructor, Student Army Training Camp at Camp Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky. Promoted to Captain, 5 November 1918. Honorable discharge 12 September 1919.

Bert Thomas Combs
1911 - 1991
Governor of Kentucky: 1959 - 1963
Military Service: World War II. 22 December 1943 enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Private. During his service in World War II, he attained the rank of Captain, seeing service in the South Pacific on General Douglas MacArthur's staff. He became Chief of the War Crimes Department's Investigating Section in the Philippine Islands. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Medal of Merit (Philippine Island), American Theater Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, Philippines Liberation with 1 star and the World War II Victory Medal. Discharged in 1946.

Edward Thompson Breathitt, Jr.
1924 - 2003
Governor of Kentucky: 1963 - 1967
Military Service: World War II. Enlisted 4 December 1942, U.S. Army Air Corps. Assigned to the 2509th Army Air Force Base Unit, with the rank of Air Cadet. Awarded the American Theater Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Honorably discharged 2 November 1945.

Louie Broady Nunn
1924 - 2004
Governor of Kentucky: 1967 - 1971
Military Service: World War II. Enlisted 2 June 1943, U.S. Army. Trained as a Clerk, at time of discharge his rank was Technician Grade Five. Awarded Good Conduct Medal. Honorably discharged 13 September 1945.

Wendell Hampton Ford
1924 -
Governor of Kentucky: 1971 - 1974
Military Service: World War II. Joined the U.S. Army on 22 July 1944. Trained as an Administrative NCO, promoted to Technical Sergeant, 17 November 1945. Awarded Expert Infantryman Badge, American Theater Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Honorably discharged 28 June 1946. Enlisted 7 June 1949 Company I, 149th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, Kentucky Army National Guard, Owensboro as a Technical Sergeant until 7 August 1949, when he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. During a reorganization in 1949 his infantry company was converted to tanks and he served as Company Commander of HH&S Company, 240th Tank Battalion until he transferred to the inactive Kentucky National Guard in 1956 as a First Lieutenant of Armor.

Julian Morton Carroll
1931 -
Governor of Kentucky: 1974 - 1979
Military Service: U.S. Air Force. Served as a Military Lawyer at Carswell Air Force Base.

John Young Brown, Jr.
1933 -
Governor of Kentucky: 1979-1983
Military Service: Kentucky Army National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve. Private First Class Brown served as a Flash Computer Operator with Battery A, 5th Target Acquisition Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, from 16 April 1959 until 28 September 1961. Transferred to the U.S. Air Force Reserve serving the remainder of his military obligation.

Ernest Lee Fletcher
1952 -
Governor of Kentucky: 2003-2007
Military Service: Governor Fletcher joined the United States Air Force in 1974 and served as an F-4E Aircraft Commander and NORAD Alert Force Commander where he led flights that intercepted Soviet military aircraft during the Cold War. Fletcher departed the Air Force in 1980 with the rank of Captain. His awards and decorations included the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.

Provisional Confederate Military Governors
The meeting of the delegates of the States Rights Party and of all others involved in Kentucky's becoming a part of the Confederacy took place 18-20 November 1861, at Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky. This session organized a Provisional Government for the State under which Kentucky was admitted into the Confederacy on 10 December 1861. The powers of this new government were vested in a governor and a council of ten, one from each Congressional District in which Kentucky was divided at that time. Bowling Green, Kentucky was the capitol.

George W. Johnson
1811 - 1862
Confederate Governor of Kentucky: 1861 - 1862
Military Service: In 1861, served as a volunteer aide to General Simon Bolivar Buckner at Bowling Green, Kentucky. In 1862, saw extensive service in the war, serving under General Albert Sidney Johnston and General Breckinridge under whom he initially served at the Battle of Shiloh as aide-de-camp. The day before he received his mortal wound he had enlisted as a Private in Company E, 4th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, CSA. He was mortally wounded in battle the following day and lay on the battlefield until the afternoon of 7 April, when he was discovered and removed to a United States hospital boat, where he died the morning of 8 April 1862.

Richard Hawes
1797 - 1877
Confederate Governor of Kentucky: 1862 - 1865
Military Service: Kentucky State Guard and Civil War, CSA. Pre-Civil War, in 1861, Captain in the Kentucky State Guard. In 1862, joined the Confederacy and served a short time as Brigade Commissary in the Confederate Army, being too old for active field duty.

Service Breakdown by Conflict

French and Indian Wars (1754 - 1763):

Charles Scott

Lord Dunmore's War (1774):

Isaac Shelby

American Revolution (1775 - 1783):

Isaac Shelby
James Garrard
Christopher Greenup
Charles Scott
George Madison
John Adair

Indian Campaigns (1790 - 1811):

Charles Scott
George Madison
Gabriel Slaughter
John Adair
Joseph Desha
Thomas Metcalf
William Owsley
John Jordan Crittenden

War of 1812 (1812 - 1815):

Isaac Shelby
George Madison
John Adair
Joseph Desha
Thomas Metcalf
Charles Anderson Wickliffe
Robert Perkins Letcher
John Jordan Crittenden

Mexican War (1846 - 1848):

Simon Bolivar Buckner

Civil War (1861 - 1865):

Thomas E. Bramlette - USA
James B. McCreary - CSA
Luke Pryor Blackburn - CSA
Simon Bolivar Buckner - CSA
George W. Johnson - CSA
Richard Hawes - CSA

Spanish-American War (1898):

Edwin Porch Morrow

World War I (1917 - 1918):

Albert Benjamin Chandler
Keen Johnson
Earle Chester Clements

World War II (1941 - 1945):

Bert Thomas Combs
Edward Thompson Breathitt, Jr.
Louis Broady Nunn
Wendell Hamilton Ford


Clift, G. Glenn, Governors of Kentucky 1792-1942. The Hobson Press, Cynthiana, KY., 1942.

Clift, G. Glenn, The "Corn Stalk" Militia of Kentucky 1792-1811. Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY., 1957.

Kleber, John E., ed., The Kentucky Encyclopedia. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY., 1992.

Harrison, Lowell H., "George W. Johnson and Richard Hawes: The Governors of Confederate Kentucky," Register 79 (Winter 1981).

Harrison, Lowell H., Kentucky's Governors 1792-1985. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY., 1985.

__________, Military History of Kentucky. Federal Writers Project, WPA, The State Journal, Frankfort, KY., 1939.

Quisenberry, Anderson Chenault, Revolutionary Soldiers in Kentucky. Reprint, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, MD., 1996.

__________, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Soldiers of the War of 1812. Reprint, Southern Historical Press, Inc., Greenville, SC, 1992.

__________, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Mexican War Veterans. John D. Woods Public Printer and Binder, Frankfort, KY., 1889.

__________, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Confederate Kentucky Volunteers, War 1861-65. Reprint, Cook & McDowell Publications, Owensboro, KY., 1980.

__________, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky. Reprint, McDowell Publications, Utica, KY., 1984.

__________, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Spanish-American War.


Last Updated 6/11/2008