Kentucky Guardsman honors family’s military legacy

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Lt. Col. John Blackburn displays the epaulets of his Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Maj. Eugene Crittenden in Frankfort, Ky., Jan. 16, 2015. The historical artifacts were a gift to Blackburn from from his aunt, Kentucky Lt. Governor Crit Luallen(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lt. Col. John Blackburn has worn an Army uniform for 24 years. The Frankfort-native joined the Kentucky Guard in 1994, serving multiple tours overseas. Achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2014 is but another accomplishment in his military career.

Joining the military was the result of a childhood fascination, Blackburn said, but a decision that is rooted in the history of Kentucky and those who have helped shape it.

“I’m not driven to tell my family ‘s story,” he said. “I just find personally interesting to learn the impacts my family has had in Kentucky and its ties back to the origins of the country.”

Blackburn’s pride in his family tree is substantiated by his connections to three Kentucky governors, a founding father of the bourbon industry and current Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen.

Blackburn is the nephew of Lt. Gov. Luallen, who presented him with a family heirloom as a gift in honor of his promotion in 2014. He received the uniform epaulets of his Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Maj. Eugene Crittenden, who served in the U.S. Army during and after the American Civil War. Luallen also included a note congratulating him on his promotion and reminding him of his family’s legacy.

“Yours is a proud heritage of fine and brave men who served their country and their families in remarkable ways,” wrote Luallen. “You are carrying on that tradition with your outstanding leadership, strong character and loving spirit.”

Blackburn said he was taken aback by the gift and did not want them just sitting around his office. He turned to John Trowbridge, historian for the Kentucky Guard who helped fill in the blanks of Eugene’s history.

“I had not known much about Eugene other than bloodline and to receive such an important family heirloom of historical significance was indeed humbling,” he said. “John Trowbridge provided me with a wealth of information that really brought the epaulets to life.”

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U.S. Army epaulets of Maj. Eugene Crittenden from the 1870s will be displayed in the Capital City Museum in Frankfort, Ky. They were a 2014 gift to Kentucky Guardsman, Lt. Col. John Blackburn, Crittenden’s great-great-great grandson. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

Blackburn and Trowbridge worked with the Capital City Museum in Frankfort to get the epaulets on display. They agreed with the museum’s curator, Tom Fugate that the items are a missing link in Kentucky military history.

According to Fugate, Eugene remained in the shadows of his much more famous brothers, George and Thomas, both of whom would become generals on opposing sides during the war.

“We were really excited when Lt. Col. Blackburn and Mr. Trowbridge brought these to our attention,” said Fugate. “They enable us to tell the whole story of brother against brother, bringing Eugene’s story out of obscurity.”

Crittenden joined the Army in 1855 as an officer with the 4th U.S. Cavalry. During the war in 1863, he was appointed colonel of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry, commanding the unit throughout the remainder of the war.

In a fitting example of the fracturing of the country during the Civil War, two of the Crittenden brothers on the field of battle in September, 1863. Eugene and brother George, who served as a major general for the Confederacy led their troops against each other in action at Carter’s Bridge, Tenn.

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U.S. Army Maj. Eugene Crittenden, circa 1865. (Courtesy photo)

After the war, Eugene was assigned to the 5th U.S. Cavalry during the Indian Wars and was stationed at Fort Bowie, Ariz. He died of a stroke in 1873 at the age of 41.

Eugene was initially buried at the fort, but was disinterred to be returned to Kentucky, where he is now buried in Frankfort Cemetery. After Fort Bowie closed, the remains of its Soldiers were moved to the San Francisco National Cemetery in California. Today, Eugene Crittenden rests in Kentucky, but also has a headstone in California.

“We want to remind the community of the significance and importance of the traditions of the Kentucky Guard and their role in the city and across Kentucky,” said Fugate.

See the epaulets on display along with 200 years of Kentucky history to explore at the Capital City Museum at 325 Ann St. in downtown Frankfort. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10AM-4PM with free admission.

 

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