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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Morgan's Raid, July 19, 1863

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Today in 1863, over 750 raiders under the command of Confederate General John Morgan were captured during the Battle of Buffington Island. While the General and his remaining men would continue to fight, this marked the beginning of the end of their raid into Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

Although born in Huntsville, Alabama, Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan called Lexington, Kentucky home. It was here, in September, 1861, that Morgan and a group of Kentucky militiamen joined the Confederate Army. He was made a Colonel, and later a Brigadier General, of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. In June, 1863, Morgan chose 2,460 southern cavalrymen and an artillery company for a raid into Kentucky, hoping to create a diversion that would pull Union troops out of Tennessee.

The raiders crossed into Kentucky on July 2 across the Cumberland River at Burkesville and soon ran into a Union regiment at Tebbs Bend on July 4. Morgan withdrew from that battle only to fight again the next day in Lebanon, Kentucky, where his youngest brother Thomas was killed. Morgan and his cavalrymen continued north towards Louisville, fighting small skirmishes the entire way. His approach caused a panic in Louisville and citizens loyal to the Union boarded paddle-wheelers and anything else that would float in an attempt to cross the Ohio River and seek refuge in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Instead of attacking the Union forces at Louisville, Morgan instead went to Brandenburg, where he crossed the Ohio River into Indiana. This was in direct violation of his orders. A company of Indiana home guards attacked the Rebel group, but they were soundly defeated. When word of the invasion reached the state capital, Governor Oliver P. Morton called on all able-bodied Hoosier men to take up arms and help defeat the Confederate forces. Thousands of men formed up in companies, but they were poorly trained and even more poorly armed. However, the hope was that these forces would cause Morgan’s forces to slow down long enough for a Union force to arrive in the state.

Morgan headed towards Corydon, Indiana where his men demanded, and received, cash and supplies from the townspeople as a sort of ransom for their safety. They then continued east, robbing and burning as they went through the small towns of southern Indiana. By this time, Union troops were on Morgan’s trail; his chances of escaping from the north were getting more remote every day.

The raiders crossed into Ohio on July 13, destroying everything of value to the Union war effort. They went around Cincinnati, which had a large garrison of Federal troops. Buffington Island, on the southern tip of Ohio, became their next destination. Morgan planned on crossing the Ohio River there and marching back into Kentucky. But by the morning of July 19, Union cavalry and US Navy gunboats arrived on the scene; the Battle of Buffington Island was underway.

The Union won a decisive victory over Morgan’s forces, capturing 750 men. But Morgan and his surviving cavalrymen escaped and turned northeast, back into the interior of Ohio. They tried crossing upriver opposite Belleville, West Virginia, but once again they met resistance. This time, however, 300 men did manage to cross and escape before Morgan and the rest of the raiders were forced to retreat back into Ohio.

Morgan and his 400 remaining men were captured near West Point, Ohio on July 26. He was interred at the Ohio State Penitentiary, but escaped from there in November, 1863 with six of his officers. They made it back to Tennessee, where their journey had begun. Less than a year later, Morgan was shot and killed during a Union raid at Greenville, Tennessee. He was buried in Lexington, Kentucky.

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