Confederate Raider, Gen. John Hunt Morgan.
Written by Ned Lodwick, U S Grant Homestead Association
“Morgan’s Raid” Part 1
Heroes commonly grow out of strife and often out of wars. John Hunt Morgan of the Confederacy was a dashing figure that seemed larger than life. If you were in Kentucky in 1863 you may hear a group of children recite this poem;
“I want to be a Cavalryman, and with John Hunt Morgan ride. A Colt revolver in my belt, a saber by my side. I want a pair of epilauts to match my suit of gray, The uniform my mother made and lettered CSA.”
On July 2nd, 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg sent Cavalry General John Hunt Morgan into Kentucky to disrupt Union communication, take as many horses and as much money that they could find, cause as much confusion as possible, and draw after him as many Union soldiers as he could make chase him. His orders were to continue the raid as long as practical but under no circumstances was he to cross the Ohio River. Ever obedient to his superiors, Gen. Morgan led his 3,000 Confederate troopers north through Kentucky directly to the Ohio River just west of Louisville. There he commandeered two riverboats and ferried his command to Indiana; two howitzers and three thousand horses and men.
Morgan’s “Great Raid” had now begun. It would last twenty-four days and cover more than 1,000 miles. Once across the Ohio he planned to carry out Gen. Bragg’s orders, except the one about crossing the Ohio, and to exploit his own ideas. First, he thought that young southern sympathizers (Copperheads) wound join his force in large numbers once he was in their states, and secondly, he would show the Northerners what war on their soil was like.
The Raiders rode eastward through southern Indiana skirmishing with militia units, cutting telegraph lines, taking horses and gold, and burning bridges and war related businesses. The Indiana Governor took the position to have his troops see that the raiders left his state as soon as possible and had them ‘driven’ from behind towards Ohio. The raiders left Sundman, Indiana on July 12th and didn’t stop to rest until they reached Williamsburg on July 14th. They traveled ninety-six miles in thirty-six hours. That is still the longest continual cavalry march by over 2,000 men ever recorded. By the time the Rebels reached Williamsburg both men and horses were exhausted. Many troopers slept in the saddle and sometimes the mounts wandered off into fields to rest themselves. Union cavalry came upon these sleeping invaders and arrested them without a struggle.
The main force of the raiders slept in the fields on the east bank of the East Fork of the Little Miami. At dawn on the 15th of July the raiders awoke at least a little refreshed and prepared to once again be on their way. They knew the Union cavalry, nearly 4,000 strong, was only six hours behind them. Morgan as usual sent his forces in several directions. By dusk one of the raiders would take horses from all 16 townships in Brown County.
One group of troopers would ride northeast through Crosstown, Fayetteville, and St Martin before rejoining the main force in Winchester. The covered bridge in Fayetteville was burned and the stores were looted. The priest at the Ursiline Academy in St. Martin heard the raiders were coming their way so he hid his carriage horse deep in the woods and told the nuns to keep all of the girls inside with bolted doors and windows. The sounds of a large number of horses were heard but no raiders were seen. When the doors were opened all the girls were safe but the priest’s horse was gone and a worn out saddle horse was found in its’ hiding place.
The main force of two thousand raiders and Gen. Morgan rode into Brown County along what is now Tri-County Highway and Old State Road. In Mt. Orab and Sardinia the looted stores of food and goods. Oscar Dunn of Mt. Orab filed claims to Ohio after the raid for the loss of 150 pounds of pork, two shirts, a razor, and fifty cents ransom he paid the raiders for the release of his fiddle.
Often the goods taken had obvious explanations and sometimes the reasons were not so obvious. Dresses and bolts of cloth were very popular as gifts for their wives, mothers, or girl friends upon their return to home. Ladies hats, especially large floppy ones with veils, were prize finds but not for the same reason as the dresses. The hats were worn by the raiders to keep off the sun and the massive clouds of dust stirred up by a column of horses. Two thousand cavalry troops if riding four abreast on a road would stretch on for nearly a two and a half miles. Some of the men carried along even stranger treasures like birds in gilded cages, pieces of furniture, and even ice skates.
Morgan sent men along all the parallel roads he could find. By this time he was desperate for remounts and the wider the area he covered the more chance he had of finding them. Often the raiders found only plow but any fresh horse was better than many of the worn out horses the rebels left behind. An interesting side note was that these worn out nags left behind were often Kentucky thoroughbreds that had lost weight and had just played out. With feed and rest the farmers came out way ahead on the trade.
The main force rode from Mt. Orab towards Sardinia. Hearing that the raiders were coming, one Sardinia man took his life’s savings out of his house and hid it in the rafters of the covered bridge nearest Sardinia over White Oak Creek. The Confederates burned both bridges over White Oak on today’s Tri-County Highway. No private homes were burned and few private homes were even entered by the raiders.
For more information see Les Horwitz’s book, “The Longest Raid of the Civil War”.