The Life of Colonel Reuben May
1815 - 1902

Dale & Sharon Sternberg
Fred T. May

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Copies of the book are also available in a number of public libraries

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Col. Reuben May

Sword & Scabbard
Reuben carried with the
Seventh Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.
Photo courtesy of a gr-gr-grandson,
Jonathan S. May.

Uniform sash worn by Col. Reuben May
Photo courtesy of a gr-gr-grandson, Bill Pryor, in 2006.

Regimental Flags

Eighth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry

Seventh Kentucky Volunteer Infantry

Flag photos courtesy of Photo Collection of the Kentucky Historical Society

A well-researched book with extensive footnotes has recently been published about Col. Reuben May (USA) a first cousin of one of the best known figures of Eastern Kentucky during the Civil War, Col. Andrew Jackson May (CSA) of Prestonsburg. Although Reuben knew that his brothers, cousins and in-laws were showing support for the Confederacy as the war began, he made his choice for the Union. Impassioned speeches that he gave years later were unequivocal in their message:

"The old flag under which Kentucky had thrived and grown, and under whose beautiful folds I have grown to manhood shall be my flag, and I will defend it against my neighbors, relatives and brothers who assail it, though my life be taken, I shall stand for the Union, I will uphold the flag!"

Reuben May was born in 1815 in a log cabin on Shelby Creek in present-day Pike County, Kentucky. In 1849 Reuben, his wife, Emmeriah Honaker, and their seven children moved to Clay County, Kentucky, where he formed partnerships in the salt manufacturing business as one of about a dozen suppliers who comprised the well-known Goose Creek Saltworks.

In September 1861 Reuben reported to Camp Estill Springs, Kentucky, and was soon named as Lt. Col. of the Eighth Kentucky Volunteer Regiment. During this same period, Jack May was organizing troops for the Confederacy in West Liberty and Prestonsburg, where he established a camp on the farms of Reuben's brothers, Williams James and Samuel May. In January 1863 Reuben was wounded at Stones River, Tennessee, where over 23,000 casualties were recorded by the opposing Armies. Four months later he was promoted to full Colonel and was assigned to lead the Seventh Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment, serving at the Siege of Jackson, Mississippi and later in Louisiana.

While the war was still enmeshed in massive troop movements and bloody battles, Reuben's wife and nine of their children had to flee to Wisconsin to seek refuge from Rebel marauders in Clay County. After mustering out of service in October 1864, Reuben moved to a large farm they had purchased in Vernon County and his pent-up political ambitions soon came to the forefront. Like his uncle Samuel May of Prestonsburg, who had served in both houses of the Kentucky State Legislature in the 1830s, Reuben was nominated and elected to serve in the 1870 Wisconsin State Assembly. Of his eight political races from 1869 to 1890, he won only two - both to the Assembly by large majorities on the Republican ticket. Two of his races for legislative seats were lost by only a few votes. Reuben became a spokesman for popular movements of the period, including: the Grange movement opposing the power of railroads and excessive grain elevator charges; "greenbacks" vs. the gold standard; compulsory education of children; and women's suffrage. Details of the ideologies he espoused are preserved in his speeches and in political editorials of supporting and opposing newspapers in Wisconsin.

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