Warner Lewis Underwood

Warner Lewis Underwood was born on August 7, 1808, in Goochland County, Virginia, to Revolutionary War veteran John Underwood and Frances Rogers. His mother died around 1809. His older brother Joseph moved to Kentucky in the early 1800s, and Warner joined him there in 1825. He enrolled at the University of Virginia to study law in 1829, and the faculty described him as an “orderly student.” He returned to Bowling Green, Kentucky, a year later and earned admission to the bar. Underwood married Lucy Craig Henry on August 31, 1831, and they had at least eight children together: Fannie, born around 1833; Juliette, born around 1835; Joanna (Josie), born around 1840; Joseph, born around 1843; Warner, born around 1845; Henry Lewis, born around 1848; Pearl, born around 1851; and Mary, born around 1857.

Underwood travelled to Texas in 1834 and served as a land agent for American settlers. When Texas declared independence from Mexico, Underwood became attorney general for the young republic’s eastern district. According to one report, Underwood declined a seat on Texas President Samuel Houston’s cabinet, “being unwilling to relinquish his [American] citizenship.” He returned to Kentucky around 1840, and one local writer declared him a “gentleman of highly cultivated mind with a decidedly literary taste, and urbane and striking manners.” He purchased the Mount Air plantation overlooking the Barren River and eventually owned $60,000 in real estate and 28 slaves.

Underwood was a “true, hard-working, and reliable Whig,” and he secured a seat in the Kentucky legislature in 1848. Voters elected him to the state senate the following year, and he served until 1853. He joined the nativist American Party soon afterwards, and he served in Congress from 1855 to 1859. In 1858, he voted against the admission of Kansas as a slave state, arguing that the majority of Kansas settlers desired a free-state constitution. Although Underwood assured critics that he was a “friend and advocate of the peculiar institution,” Kentucky voters denounced him as a traitor to the South. In response to this backlash, Underwood declined to run for reelection.

Underwood supported Constitutional Unionist John Bell in the election of 1860, and he fiercely opposed secession. As his daughter Josie observed, his "patriotism transcends section and personal interest and he cannot bear the thought of seeing this great country with its glorious future among the nations and influence in the world...broken up into insignificant provinces." Indeed, Josie explained, "because he so loves the South, he does not want her ruined by disunion and giving up the old flag and government." He attended a Constitution Union Convention in January 1861 and drafted a series of ardent Unionist resolutions. He viewed the Union as the “priceless legacy” of the founding generation and the “great bond of the people.” Underwood offered several constitutional amendments to resolve the crisis. He proposed to extend the Missouri Compromise line across the country, allowing slavery in all states and territories south of latitude 36°30′. He also sought to safeguard slavery in the District of Columbia, protect the interstate slave trade, and strengthen fugitive slave provisions.

Kentucky remained officially neutral during the first months of the Civil War, and Underwood met with President Abraham Lincoln in April 1861 to help ensure the state’s neutrality. In the state’s 1861 elections, Unionists captured nine of Kentucky’s ten congressional seats and won commanding majorities in the General Assembly. A small group of secessionists, however, established a rival pro-Confederate “provisional government” in Bowling Green. In December 1861, this “provisional government” issued a warrant for Underwood’s arrest, insisting that he had “aided our [Unionist] enemies in every possible manner in his power.” Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston ordered Underwood and his family to evacuate their house in January 1862, and Confederate soldiers plundered and burned the plantation the following month.

In the summer of 1862, in recognition of his Unionist convictions, Lincoln appointed Underwood as United States Consul to Glasgow, Scotland. Underwood forged diplomatic alliances, hoping to prevent Great Britain from recognizing the Confederate government. He also monitored the city’s shipyards to keep merchants from sending goods to the Confederacy. He resigned in June 1864, complaining that his financial affairs were “in wretched condition, wrecked and torn by both armies.” He briefly settled in California before returning to Bowling Green in 1866. He reestablished his law practice and began rebuilding his home. In February 1868, however, he suffered a debilitating stroke, and his health never fully recovered. He died near Bowling Green on March 12, 1872, and was buried in the city’s Fairview Cemetery.

Image: Warner L. Underwood (courtesy Wikicommons)


Warner and Lucy Underwood Face the Secession Crisis

Name:Underwood, Warner Lewis
Alternative names:
  • UVA (Union)
  • Civilian
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:Bowling Green, KY
UVA Begin Year:1829
UVA End Year:1830
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1808-08-07
Birth date certainty:Certain
Birth place:Goochland County, VA
Death date:1872-03-12
Death place:Bowling Green, KY
Causes of death:
Occupations:Farmer, Attorney
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Fannie
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Juliette
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Joanna
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Joseph
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Warner
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Henry Lewis
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Pearl
Underwood, Warner Lewisparent ofUnderwood, Mary
Underwood, Lucy Craigwife ofUnderwood, Warner Lewis

Gary R. Matthews, More American Than Southern: Kentucky, Slavery, and the War for an American Ideology, 1828-1861 (Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 2014); Charles Lanman, Dictionary of the United States Congress and the General Government, Sixth Edition (Hartford, CT: T. Belknap and H. E. Goodwin, 1869); A Catalogue of the Officers and Matriculates of the University of Virginia, Session 1829-30 (Charlottesville, VA: Carr and Elliot, 1830); Josie Underwood's Civil War Diary, ed. Nancy Disher Baird (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009); Session 6 of the University of Virginia Chairman’s Journal, September 5, 1829-July 20,1830, Jefferson’s University: The Early Life; The Courier-Journal, 15 May 1847, 10 January 1861; The Louisville Daily Courier, 20 April 1858; Journal of the Provisional Government of the State of Kentucky, available from Civil War Governors of Kentucky.