‘Reck­less’ raid into In­di­ana and Ohio had a last­ing ef­fect

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Jack Tram­mell

The ad­jec­tives used to de­scribe Con­fed­er­ate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid into In­di­ana and Ohio range from “spec­tac­u­lar” and “in­cred­i­ble” to “fool­ish” and “worth­less.”

Morgan bi­og­ra­pher James A. Ra­m­age calls it noth­ing more than a pin­prick in a healthy arm. His­to­rian Bruce Cat­ton clas­si­fied this cam­paign with all oth­ers by Morgan, say­ing that it made head­lines, with­out any doubt, but didn’t in­flu­ence the out­come of the war.

Even fre­quent ref­er­ences to it as the “Great Raid” are po­ten­tially con­tra­dic­tory or mis­lead­ing be­cause many his­to­ri­ans and mil­i­tary an­a­lysts would ar­gue that it was any­thing but “great” in its ef­fect on the Con­fed­er­ate ef­fort to win the war and ac­tu­ally worked against it by boost­ing morale in the Mid­west, where Union sup­port had been wan­ing.

One bi­og­ra­pher even de­ter­mined that Morgan must have been in­sane to un­der­take such a mis­sion.

His­to­ri­ans, how­ever, ob­vi­ously are not the only peo­ple qual­i­fied to de­ter­mine sig­nif­i­cance. To the peo­ple of south­ern In­di­ana and Ohio, the ar­rival (and rapid de­par­ture) of Morgan’s com­mand was the defin­ing event in the war. It left a mark on the pop­u­la­tion that is still ev­i­dent.

A risk taker

In late April 1863, tir­ing of picket duty in south­ern Ken­tucky and mid­dle Ten­nessee, Morgan dis­patched scouts north to the Ohio River. He had de­cided to take the war to the peo­ple who were be­hind the in­vad­ing Union armies and de­stroy what­ever ma­te­ri­als and re­sources he could at the same time.

He even flirted with the idea of link­ing up with Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was headed into Penn­syl­va­nia on his last se­ri­ous in­va­sion of the North. In private, Morgan planned the de­tails of a mis­sion that would take him into In­di­ana and pos­si­bly farther.

What­ever his private mo­tives, those around him sup­ported what he pub­licly pro­posed, which was to raid north to­ward Louisville, Ky. Gen. “Fightin’ Joe” Wheeler, Morgan’s im­me­di­ate su­pe­rior, gave his per­mis­sion not once, but twice, for Morgan to raid as far as Louisville but never had an inkling that Morgan would cross the Ohio River and con­tinue north­ward.

Gen. Brax­ton Bragg, com­mand­ing the en­tire Army of Ten­nessee, did not have a clue con­cern­ing Morgan’s true plan, ei­ther, and never for­gave him for the in­dis­cre­tion. Morgan’s clos­est of­fi­cer, his brother-in-law Basil Duke, was one of the few of­fi­cers with whom he shared his real in­ten­tions, and Duke was se­ri­ously con­cerned about the dim prospects for suc­cess.

All in all, Morgan’s de­ci­sion to cross the great river can only be termed as rash, stub­born and reck­less, but typ­i­cal of the risk taker he had be­come.

A lost brother

Af­ter mak­ing care­ful ar­range­ments for his preg­nant wife, Mat­tie, in Ten­nessee, Morgan made up his mind to go and never looked back. On June 20, his main force (about 2,500, di­vided into two brigades un­der Duke and Col. Adam John­son and ac­com­pa­nied by two small bat­ter­ies of ar­tillery) crossed the Cum­ber­land River in Ten­nessee and moved slowly in the gen­eral di­rec­tion of Mon­ti­cello, Ky., fight­ing sev­eral small skir­mishes along the way.

On July 2, the com­mand crossed the Cum­ber­land River a sec­ond time, this time at Burkesville, Ky. On July 4, Morgan fool­ishly at­tacked Union forces from Michi­gan who were po­si­tioned strongly on the op­po­site side of the Green River at Tebb’s Bend, and suf­fered 75 ca­su­al­ties for his trou­ble.

Morgan even­tu­ally de­cided to by­pass this force, al­though he could have de­feated it with time and ef­fort, and in­stead headed for Le­banon. Speed was of the essence.

On July 5, Morgan fought a six­hour bat­tle in Le­banon against Union forces un­der Col. C.S. Han­son. Morgan’s men burned build­ings in the cen­ter of town, where the Union sol­diers were hold­ing out, and even­tu­ally forced their sur­ren­der.

Trag­i­cally, though, Morgan’s younger brother Tom was killed be­fore the town was brought un­der con­trol. Morgan re­mained silent with grief while his men went on a ram­page in re­venge.

Cross­ing the Ohio

The small army had to con­tinue mov­ing. Around 4 a.m. on July 6, Morgan ar­rived in Bard­stown. By 10 that morn­ing, his men reached the tracks of the Louisville & Nashville Rail­road, 25 miles south of Louisville, where they burned a tres­tle, robbed a train and dis­patched a com­pany of 130 men un­der Capt. William J. Davis to threaten Louisville.

The fol­low­ing day, Morgan camped near Gar­nettsville. A few miles away, in Bran­den­burg, Ky., his ad­vance de­tach­ment cap­tured two steam­boats, the Alice Dean and the John. T. McCombs, both of which had been lured into am­bush and robbed, then out­fit­ted for an am­phibi­ous cross­ing the next day.

On July 8, in a te­dious op­er­a­tion that dragged on for hour af­ter hour (more than 17 in all) the two steam­boats fer­ried Morgan’s men across the Ohio River and into In­di­ana. Af­ter the cross­ing was com­plete, the Alice Dean was burned, but for rea­sons that re­main un­clear, the John T. McCombs was spared. The lat­ter was sent by Union cavalry into Louisville with news of the in- va­sion of the Hoosier state. The “glory” phase of the raid of­fi­cially be­gan.

In­ter­est­ingly, Union forces in the area at­tempted to thwart Morgan with­out re­ally un­der­stand­ing his in­ten­tions. In one case, Brig. Gen. Henry M. Ju­dah moved to cut off Morgan’s re­treat to Ten­nessee, never sus­pect­ing that the raider was headed in the other di­rec­tion.

In an­other case, Gen. Ambrose Burn­side, who was busy in Cincin­nati or­ga­niz­ing his army, which was spread through­out Ken­tucky, dis­patched forces un­der Brig. Gen. Ed­ward Hob­son to pre­vent Morgan from cross­ing into In­di­ana. Hob­son, how­ever, ar­rived a few hours af­ter Morgan had crossed the river. The Union missed sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties in the early stages to stop Morgan, but the truth is that even men in Morgan’s own com­mand didn’t al­ways know their des­ti­na­tion un­til af­ter they ar­rived.

Panic in In­di­ana

On the night of July 8, Morgan and his men camped about five miles north of the river. The res­i­dents of In­di­ana were al­ready in a state of panic. Gov. Oliver P. Mor­ton im­me­di­ately be­gan prepa­ra­tions for mo­bi­liz­ing ev­ery healthy male in the state. The tele­graph records for those weeks re­veal a mas­sive ef­fort to re­spond to the dan­ger of in­va­sion.

The next day, the only of­fi­cial bat­tle of the raid was fought at Co­ry­don. Four hun­dred and fifty men of the 6th In­di­ana Le­gion un­der Col. Lewis Jor­dan formed a line of bat­tle along a wooded ridge just out­side town.

Morgan’s ar­tillery be­gan lob­bing shells into the town it­self, and the first wave of in­vaders charged the ridge. Four In­di­ana sol­diers and 16 of Morgan’s com­mand be­came ca­su­al­ties in the ini­tial charge, which wasn’t a se­ri­ous at­tack.

A few min­utes later, Jor­dan saw it was hope­less and sur­ren­dered. More than 300 In­di­ana mili­ti­a­men were paroled quickly be­fore Morgan moved on. The van­guard passed through New Sal­is­bury and camped near Palmyra.

The next day, 350 mili­ti­a­men near Palmyra re­treated rather than meet up with Morgan’s main force. All through the raid, Morgan split his force into dif­fer­ent groups, con­fus­ing ev­ery ef­fort to in­ter­cept him, and on this day, one col­umn de­stroyed a rail­road bridge while an­other cap­tured Salem and paroled an­other 200 mili­tia mem­bers. In Salem, Morgan forced the town millers to pay a ran­som to avoid hav­ing their prop­erty de­stroyed.

Morgan en­coun­tered stiffer re­sis­tance later at Ver­non, where a large Home Guard force re­fused to sur­ren­der. He wisely de­cided to by­pass this sit­u­a­tion, skirt­ing to the south­east.

Ham and whiskey

That night, Morgan slept in Lex­ing­ton, Ind. Forces were con­verg­ing on him from all di­rec­tions, in­clud­ing Gen. Lew Wal­lace (the post­war “Ben-Hur” au­thor) with more than 1,000 In­di­ana troops. But no one would be able to catch him in In­di­ana.

On July 11, Morgan’s men en­tered Dupont, where they cap­tured more than 2,000 May­field hams, re­sult­ing in an odd spec­ta­cle for any­one brave enough to peek out the win­dow. Raiders strapped as many as a half-dozen hams on their mounts. Morgan slept in Dupont that night at the Thomas Stout house.

On July 12, Morgan’s main force reached Ver­sailles. Union forces, in­clud­ing those un­der Hob­son, were just hours be­hind Morgan, so he wasted no time in parol­ing the 300 pris­on­ers he took.

In the loot­ing that oc­curred, Morgan’s men cap­tured vast stores of whiskey, which they con­sumed freely. Two of Morgan’s men were shot later that day near Sunman. That night, Morgan slept in an old school­house known as the Fer­ris School, just a few miles from the Ohio River.

The next day, Morgan’s men passed by Klump’s Tav­ern, where pa­trons still can en­joy a drink, and reached the Ohio River at Har­ri­son. Ex­hausted, Morgan napped for a few hours be­fore mov­ing into south­west­ern Ohio. Forces un­der Hob­son were less than two hours be­hind him.

Into an­other state

The Ohio por­tion of Morgan’s raid was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the same story, per­haps at a slightly more fre­netic pace: burn­ing bridges and build­ings, canal boats and de­pots; rip­ping up rail­road tracks; seiz­ing funds; and forc­ing civil­ians to cook and pro­vide food.

Like her sis­ter state, south­ern Ohio found it­self in a state of panic. The au­thor­i­ties did not fail to act, how­ever. More than 115,000 men were placed un­der arms to counter Morgan’s raid in In­di­ana and Ohio.

The Ohio por­tion of the raid lasted from July 13 to 26. Morgan skirted north of Cincin­nati, again avoid­ing heavy forces that had been ar­rayed against him. Fed­eral cavalry had tracked him through In­di­ana and stayed with him in Buck­eye coun­try as he crossed the main part of the state in about six days.

On July 18, Morgan ar­rived in Port­land, Ohio, fully ex­pect­ing to cross back into Vir­ginia (ac­tu­ally West Vir­ginia) and cir­cle back to Ken­tucky and Ten­nessee. The ford on the Ohio River was guarded, but Morgan was not overly con­cerned. He slept that night imag­in­ing that his great­est risks were about to be put be­hind him. He failed to post pick­ets, how­ever, and the next day, ev­ery­thing be­gan un­rav­el­ing.

Caught in a vise

On July 19, as they were be­gin­ning the Ohio River cross­ing, Morgan’s men made an un­pleas­ant dis­cov­ery. Around the cor­ner of Buff­in­g­ton Is­land loomed the steamship Moose, ready to open fire.

To make mat­ters worse, the pur­suit that had been fol­low­ing him for weeks fi­nally caught up with him. Hob­son and Ju­dah — who had been track­ing the Con­fed­er­ates since they had crossed the Ohio — along with Col. Au­gust V. Kautz fell on Morgan’s men with numer­i­cally su­pe­rior forces of mili­tia and cavalry.

From this point on, things went from bad to worse. Morgan en­cour­aged those who could make it to com­plete the river cross­ing un­der fire. About 300 men made it back to Bragg’s army that way. An­other 700 or so be­came trapped with Basil Duke and Col. Smith, fight­ing tena­ciously un­til they were over­whelmed and forced to sur­ren­der. The rest of the com­mand ac­com­pa­nied Morgan north, farther away from home, in an at­tempt to find a safe place to cross.

Morgan never crossed the river. Arc­ing farther north over the next seven days, the Con­fed­er­ates found them­selves pressed harder and harder on all sides.

Small pock­ets of Morgan’s re­main­ing forces were picked up daily, and fi­nally Morgan him­self and a rem­nant of about 300 men were forced to sur­ren­der near West Point and New Lis­bon, Ohio.

Jack Tram­mell works at Ran­dolph-Ma­con Col­lege in Ash­land, Va. He is the au­thor of nu­mer­ous books, in­clud­ing a Civil War novel, “Gray.” He can be reached at jack­tram­mell@ya­hoo.com.

Li­brary of Congress

Con­fed­er­ate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led a raid to de­stroy ma­te­ri­als and re­sources be­ing sup­plied to Union forces, but the ef­fort boosted morale of Union sup­port­ers.

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