Gen. John Hunt Morgan
"There lived a knight, when
knighthood was in flower,
Who charmed alike the tilt-yard and the bower."
--Gen. Basil W. Duke.
From the N. O. Picayune, October 13, 1907.
The soldiers of the Civil War are ever ready to recite reminiscences of camp and field. They forgive, but they cannot forget. Fresh in memory are scenes of life and light, of courage and death, of rollicking gayety and abject despair, of music and dancing, of the piteous cry of the wounded, the exultant shout of the victor and the imprecation of the vanquished. A mere boy, I left my old Kentucky home to follow the plume of General John H. Morgan, the beau sabreur who rode far into the enemy's country, greeting the sons of the morning with a strange new flag.
In person General Morgan was notably graceful and handsome. Six feet in height, his form was perfect, a rare combination of grace, activity and strength. The prince of Kentucky cavaliers, Morgan was the peer of the immortals--Stuart and Hampton, Forrest and Wheeler. Associated with him, always second in command, was Basil W. Duke, the Baron Henry of the youthful
cavalrymen--the flower of "old Kentucky."
While Morgan was bold in thought and action, he neglected no precaution that would insure success or avert disaster. His rapidly formed plans, promptly and brilliantly executed, surprised his friends and confounded his foes. He was the originator of the far-reaching raid, and the author of a system of tactics and strategy that was novel and effective.
When invading a "far country," preferably when "The bloom was on the alder And the tassel on the corn," he marched swiftly and continuously, much of his success being due to his possession of a faculty that enabled him to move with as great facility and confidence without maps and guides as with them. When advancing he rarely declined to fight, believing that then a concentration of superior forces against him was more difficult, the vigor of his enemy being somewhat paralyzed by the celerity of his own movements and the mystery that involved them. When retreating, however, he would resort to every strategem to avoid battle, fearing that while fighting one enemy another might overtake and assail him.
Lee was marching toward Pennsylvania and Bragg, in danger of being overwhelmed by Rosecrans, directed Morgan to create a diversion by marching into Kentucky and threatening Louisville. Being essential a free lance, accustomed to independent action, Morgan determined to cross the Ohio River, General Bragg's order to the contrary notwithstanding. Hitherto the career of the cavalry chieftain had been brilliantly successful but the contemplated long ride from the sunny hills of Tennessee through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio was to end in grave and almost irreparable disaster. In high feather and in full song Morgan's gallant young cavalrymen formed in column, looking toward Kentucky. There were two brigades, the one commanded by Colonel Basil W. Duke, the other by Colonel Adam R. Johnson. Following the cavalry were four pieces of artillery--a section of three-inch Parrott guns and two twelve-pound Howitzers. When General Morgan, tastefully dressed
and superbly mounted, rode along the column, going to the front, the men cheered and sang their song:
"Here's the health to Duke and Morgan,
Drink it down;
"Here's the health to Duke and Morgan,
Drink it down;
"Here's the health to Duke and Morgan,
Down, boys, down, drink it down."
To this ovation General Morgan, hat in hand, smilingly bowed his acknowledgement and appreciation. When Colonel Duke, with flashing eye and flowing plume, appeared there were more cheers and another song, "My Old Kentucky Home." When 'the bugles again sounded the cavaliers, two thousand four hundred and sixty effective men, "With all their banners bravely spread, And all their armor flashing high," moved from Alexandria, Tenn., June 11, 1863, toward the Cumberland River.
When the raiders arrived at Burkesville, on the Cumberland River, the river was at flood tide, and a detachment of Judah's formidable cavalry was on the opposite shore. No commander less resolute or more timorous than Morgan would have attempted to cross the swollen stream in the face of a threatening enemy. As usual, however, he deceived the Federals by doing what was least expected of him. Having crossed the river and dispersed the opposing troopers, he boldly and swiftly marched due north, leaving a strong force of Federal cavalry in his rear. Adhering to his policy of fighting, instead of avoiding, all troops that opposed him when advancing, Morgan was unfortunate on this great raid, even in Kentucky, where on former occasions he had been signally successful. On the Fourth of July, he undertook to capture a small force of Michigan infantry occupying a naturally strong and skillfully-fortified position in a bend of the Green River. Replying to a demand for his surrender, the Commander, Colonel H. Moore, said: "This is Independence Day. I shall not lower my flag without a fight." Having repeatedly assaulted the position, and lost in killed and wounded nearly one hundred of his most gallant men, the discomfited Morgan made a detour and marched away, leaving his dead and wounded comrades to the tender mercies of the Federal Commander, who was no less humane than he was brave.
Marching to Lebanon, the raiders captured the garrison, about three hundred men, but not without the loss of fifty of their comrades, among the killed being Lieutenant Tom Morgan, the general's brother, a mere boy, the idol of the command.
At Springfield Morgan began to send detachments in various directions, and to further mystify the pursuing and environing Federals he resorted to the telegraph, a resource that had often served him on former daring expeditions. Attached to his staff was an expert telegraph operator named George A. Ellsworth, whom the men called "Lightning." Having cut a wire, Ellsworth would connect his own instrument with the line and take off the dispatches. If none of interest came his way he would place himself in communication with the Federal commanders. If Morgan had 1,000 men, "Lightning" would gravely inform them that he had 2,000. Locating the detachments promiscuously, he would have the main column and detached squadrons marching in directions contrary to their objective points. Leaving Springfield, Morgan deflected from the straight northward route,hitherto pursued, and marched westward to Bardstown, threatening Louisville. By this time the "rough riders" had become weary and sleepy. While the column was making the night march from Springfield to Bardstown, the brilliant Colonel Alston, Chief of Staff, sought "nature's sweet restorer" on the veranda of a roadside residence, and awoke to find himself in the
hands of the pursuing Federal cavalry.
From Bardstown the Confederates marched rapidly to Brandenburg, on the Ohio River, forty miles below Louisville.
When the column reached Brandenburg, early in the morning of July 8, General Morgan was delighted to find two good steamboats lying at the wharf, the transports having been secured by two of his most adventuresome captains, Sam Taylor and Clay Meriwether, who had been sent in advance for that purpose.
Impatient of delay, Morgan made immediate preparations to cross the river. A dense fog prevented his seeing what was on the other side, but he knew that a strong force of determined Federal cavalry was close upon his rear. A shot from a rifled cannon and a volley of musketry announced the presence of an unseen enemy on the Indiana shore.
The disappearing mist, however, soon revealed a small force of combatants, presumably militia, and one piece of artillery, mounted upon two wheels of an ordinary road wagon. The first shot from one of the Parrott guns made the patriotic Indianians, unused to war's alarms, nervous, and the second induced them to abandon their "battery" and flee to the wooded hills, six hundred yards from the river.
When two dismounted regiments had been transferred to the opposite shore, a small gunboat appeared and viciously threw shells at the Confederates on both sides of the river. For about an hour there was an interesting duel between the bellicose steamer and the Parrott guns planted on a high bluff on the Kentucky shore. To General Morgan it was a supreme moment--a time to try his soul. Two of his best regiments were separated from their comrades by the intervening river, and General Hobson's strong column of fine cavalry was closely pressing his rear. To his great relief, however, the saucy and disquieting little gunboat suddenly and unexpectedly withdrew from the combat, and, standing up the river, disappeared from view. By midnight Morgan's entire command had crossed to the Indiana shore. Duke's merry cavaliers, strangers in a strange land, singing "Here's the health to Duke and Morgan, Drink it down," marched to a point six miles from the river and went into camp for a brief rest. The rear guard of Johnson's Brigade, the last to cross the river, stopped on the margin of the stream long enough to burn the transports and to wave their hats, bidding Hobson's pursuing cavalry, then on the other shore, good-by. Then, following the column, they sang:
"The race is not to them that's got
The longest legs to run,
Nor the battle to that people
That shoots the biggest gun."
At Corydon, fifteen miles north of the river, a force of militia, or home guards, formidable in numbers only, attempted to delay the march, but when the advance guard charged their barricade of fence rails in front and a regiment threatened their flank, they unhesitatingly fled.
At Salem, thirty miles further north, there was a similar occurrence. Apparently the whole of Indiana was in arms, one blast upon a native's horn being worth a thousand men. The home guards were patriotic and commendably brave, but their inexperience and lack of discipline rendered them ineffective when opposing the march of Morgan's veteran cavaliers.
From Salem the column moved eastward to Vienna, where Ellsworth captured the telegraph operator and put himself in communication with Louisville and Indianapolis, sending the usual fiction regarding Morgan's movements and receiving desirable information as to those of the enemy. As the invaders advanced, marching rapidly day and night, the needlessly
alarmed people fled from their homes, leaving doors wide open and cooked "rations" invitingly displayed in kitchen and dining hall, the quantity being great and the quality good. If the fleeting horsemen from Dixie fared sumptuously every day and night in a land where they had no friends, what must have been the abundance that greeted the swiftly pursuing cavalry, composed largely of Kentuckians, Ohioans and "Michiganders." At Vernon Morgan found himself confronted by the usual hostile multitude. Having thrown out detachments to threaten and deceive, he sent a truce flag to the commandant, courteously requesting him to capitulate. This overture the Federal officer declined, asking, however, for an armistice of two hours that the non-combatants might be removed beyond the zone of danger. Always humane, the Confederate chieftain readily granted the request. While the non-bellicose people were being removed from the town, the wily Morgan adroitly abandoned the siege, and, making a detour, marched away, leaving the warlike force at Vernon unmolested.
What especially impressed the thoughtful men of Morgan's raiders was the dense population, apparently untouched by the demands of the war. In one day they encountered at least ten thousand home guards. Plainly the invaders were facing a condition, not a theory. The Morgan men, pardonably I think, point with pride to the fact that in a land swarming with their enemies, they burned only one private dwelling, and even that one would have been left uninjured had not a hostile band made a fortress of it. Their sins were many, but burning houses, making war on women and children and mistreating prisoners were not among them.
Dispersing or eluding all hostile forces, cutting telegraph wires and throwing out detachments to deceive the Federal officers, Morgan marched swiftly on and on, day and night, night and day, until he reached Harrison, Ohio, where he began to maneuver to mystify the commanding officer at Cincinnati. He had reason to believe that the city was garrisoned by a
strong force under General Burnside, and that a supreme effort would be made to intercept and capture him when he should attempt to cross the Hamilton and Dayton Railroad.
After two or three hours' halt at Harrison the column moved directly toward Cincinnati, all detachments coming in before nightfall. Hoping that his previous demonstrations would induce a concentration of Federal troops up the railroad, and that if any were left at Cincinnati his subsequent threatening movements would cause them to withdraw into the city and remain
on the defensive, permitting him to march around it without attacking him, General Morgan sought to approach as near the city as possible, without actually entering it, and involving his command in a conflict with any garrison that might be there. Having started that morning, July 13, from a point fifty miles from Cincinnati, and reaching the vicinity of the city in the night, he had found it impossible to obtain any definite information as to the location or strength of the enemy. Moreover, of the two thousand four hundred and sixty effective troopers with which he had started from far-away Tennessee, he had scarcely two thousand left. He could find sufficiently strenuous employment for this force without running into a labyrinth of unfamiliar streets and among houses, every one of which might be made a fortress from which an unseen enemy, soldier or citizen, could
shoot his men from their horses, causing confusion, if not irretrievable disaster.
The men in the ranks and the officers as well, were worn and demoralized by the fatigue of continuous marching and the loss of sleep. Besides, General Morgan had given himself a particular work to perform. He was going to Buffington Island before attempting to re-cross the river--as planned before starting on the long raid.
The night march around the city was extremely difficult and hazardous. The many suburban roads were confusing, especially as the night was intensely dark. Small bonfires of paper and such inflammable material as could be found were used to light the way. The danger of taking the wrong road was always imminent, the rear battalions often being at a loss to ascertain
which one of the many roads had been taken by those in advance, from whom they had been separated by reason of much straggling and the confusion incident to the darkness of the night, the horses' tracks on the much-traveled roads furnishing no clew as to the route taken by General Morgan, who rode in front. The direction in which the dust "settled or floated" was the most reliable guide, as when the night is calm, as on this occasion, the dust stirred up by a column of cavalry will remain suspended in the air for a time, moving slowly in the same direction that the horses which have disturbed' it are traveling.
Strong men fell from their saddles, and at every halt the officers, themselves exhausted, were compelled to use heroic measures to arouse the men who, having fallen from their horses, were sleeping in the road. Not a few crept off into the fields and slept until they awoke to find themselves in the hands of the enemy. When day dawned the column had passed through
Glendale, a beautiful suburban village, within sight of the city's spires, and was near the Little Miami Railroad, the last point where Morgan thought he would encounter serious opposition. Having crossed the railroad unopposed the column halted, and the horses were fed within sight of Camp Dennison. That evening the weary Southerners were at Williamsburg, twenty-eight miles east of Cincinnati, having marched more than ninety miles in thirty-five hours, the greatest march that even Morgan had ever made.
On an expedition such as the "Ohio Raid" the exchanging, or impressment, of horses is a military necessity. When Morgan crossed the Ohio River his men were riding fine Kentucky horses, many of them thoroughbred, peculiarly adapted to service on a long and exhausting raid into an enemy's country, but they had their limitations. Traveling rapidly and continuously a
distance of a thousand miles was too much, even for horses that were "bred in Old Kentucky, where the meadow grass is blue." When the Kentucky cavalryman exchanged his faithful equine friend for an Indiana or Ohio farm horse, he did so reluctantly, even tearfully, and felt that he had made a bad "trade." Some of the raiders necessarily "swapped horses" three or four times within twenty-four hours. To the cavalryman who is far from his base, and dismounted, visions of prison life appear, and if a horse is anywhere within reach he will "capture" it, peacefully if he can, forcibly if he must.
Relieved of the depressing suspense incident to the march around Cincinnati, and having enjoyed a night's rest at Williamsburg, the invaders resumed their merry ways. Looking toward the bordering little hills beyond the river they began to sing, "The Old Kentucky Home." Among them were many musicians, white and colored. Somewhere, en route, they had "confiscated" two violins, a guitar and a banjo. The sentimental guitarist was softly singing "Juanita," when he was interrupted by a rollicking fiddler who played "The Hills of Tennessee." Simultaneously another gay violinist broke one of his three strings in an attempt to play "The Arkansas Traveler," and then inconsiderately threw away the fiddle and the bow. A homesick
little darky took possession of the banjo and sang: "All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for the old plantation, And for the old folks at home."
Bugle sounds interrupted the inharmonic musicale, and soon the cavaliers were in their saddles, bound for the ford at Buffington Island. On this march the fighting was almost continuous, not only with the militia that industriously barricaded the roads, but with encompassing regular troops. Even the women frowned, their voluble speech being uncomplimentary. Neither
in Indiana nor in Ohio did Morgan's "Rough Riders" see any "bright smiles to haunt them still."
Unfortunately for Morgan his column did not reach Buffington Island until after nightfall, July 18, too late to attempt the crossing of the river, especially as the night was very dark. His scouts informed him that the ford was guarded by three hundred infantry, protected by an earthwork, and two heavy guns. The delay was fatal. Early on the following morning, however, about five hundred men succeeded in crossing the river, despite the dense fog and the rising tide, unprecedented at that time of the year. Unknown to Morgan, the infantry guard at the ford had abandoned the earthwork some time in the night. At an early hour the troops that had not crossed the river were attacked simultaneously by Hobson's pursuing column and by Judah's forces that had come up the river. At the same time the gunboats appeared and promptly began to throw shells and grapeshot into the ranks of the Confederates who, for a very short time, made a gallant but hopeless fight. The ensuing melee and demoralization I cannot describe. It is sufficient to say that the combat ended in the dispersion and capture of nearly the whole of Morgan's command.
In the early morning General Morgan rode into the
river, but when about half way across, seeing that the greater
number of his men would be forced to remain on the Ohio shore, he
turned and rode back to that side of the stream, resolved to
share the fate of his men.
Accompanying the raiders were a number of active and intelligent colored boys serving their young masters, to whom they were singularly devoted. Among them was a little fellow named "Box," a privileged character, whose impudent airs were condoned by the cavaliers in consideration of his uniform cheerfulness and enlivening plantation melodies. When General Morgan had returned to the Ohio shore he saw Box plunge into the river and boldly swim toward the other side. Fearing the little fellow would be drowned, the General called to him to return. "No, Marse John," cried Box, "if dey ketch you dey may parole you, but if dey ketch dis nigger in a free State he ain't a-gwine ter git away while de wah lasts." Narrowly missing collision with a gunboat, Box crossed the river all right and escaped southward to the old plantation.
With about one thousand gallant but hopeless men, General Morgan withdrew from the melee at Buffington Island and rode eastward, closely pursued by Hobson's indefatigable cavalry. Weary and harassed, the Confederate chieftain continued to elude his relentless pursuers for six days, when, his followers reduced to two hundred men, he surrendered, July 26, to a detachment of Hobson's Kentucky Cavalrymen--Greek against Greek. The sensational escape of Morgan and six of his captains from the Ohio prison is another story.