The raiders at the Courthouse Square
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Assoc.
“Morgan’s Raid” Part 3
At dawn of July 15th, 1863 the 200 men of the 14th Kentucky Cavalry CSA under the command of Col. Richard Morgan mounted their horses prepared for another day. They were the first to ride out of camp and did it with a bit of flare. The 14th had ‘liberated’ a banjo and two fiddles and the as the raiders moved out three men began to play. The rest of the troopers joined in with their voices and the music of “My Old Kentucky Home” and then “Lorena” filled the dawn air.
During the early morning hours the raiders rode through Henning’s Mills, Locust Ridge, Neel’s Corner, New Hope, and then south to Georgetown. Several reasons are possible for this out of the way route. First it allowed the raiders to cover more area in search of horses, food, and gold. Second, it acted as a false trail for their Union pursuers. Third, the river crossing at Ripley might allow the raiders a chance to go back to Kentucky. And finally, Morgan had heard rumors that large sums of money had been shipped from Lexington to Georgetown when the news of his presence in Kentucky had first been reported.
The raiders rode into Georgetown at 9:15 AM. Some of the troopers tied their tired horses to the iron rail that surrounded the Courthouse Square while others rode to the fairgrounds. A local resident, ‘Aunt’ Betsy King, wrote an account of the next few hours to her friend Ulysses Grant. She began, “The officers had everything systemically arranged. While some were searching the stables and sheds for horses, others were going to every house and asking for food. The each one had a basket. The Ladies gave them all they asked for, they were all very polite and bowing and lifting their hats when leaving. One went to the Phillip’s and Lillie gave him bread, butter, and cold ham. She told him she would not give him anything only she was afraid, for she didn’t believe in feeding robbers. He smiled and left.
The search for horses was unrewarding. Georgetown had been given some warning of the raid and the townsfolk had hidden them. Only two horses could be found in the village. They belonged to Wm. Ellisberry and Henry Brunner. Mr. Brunner was a cobbler and he repaired saddles, bridles and boot for the raiders without complaint until his supplies ran out so the raiders let him keep his horse. A pony that belonged to John Stuart was found but considered of no use so it was left behind but the Ellisberry horse was now a Confederate cavalry horse.
As in most towns the stores were looted. Betsy King reported, “Others were robbing the dry good stores and taking the best, carrying of many pieces of silk and all they could possibly carry away. A. Bushman had a shoe store, they stripped that, carrying away all the boots and shoes they could.” Before they left town they would take merchandise valued at over $5,000 dollars. Something happened in the Colthar’s grocery store at the southeast corner of Cherry and Main Streets. Someone must have angered the raiders because they made a pile of clothing and other goods in the center of to floor and poured a full barrel of molasses over the top of it then found a few more things to add to the mess.
Not everyone in Georgetown was panicked by the arrival of the raiders. Some of the residents actually welcomed the rebels. There were many “Peace Democrats” and Copperheads (southern sympathizers) in Brown County. Remember that many residents came here from Virginia via Kentucky and that President Lincoln never won an election in Brown County. Betsy King suggested that, “Johnny Walker and Ed Hannah went over during the night and gave Morgan all information he wanted in regard to Georgetown.” According to Netta Taylor, wife of Union General Thomas Taylor, most of the residents were happy to see these ‘heroes of the South’ enter town and directed the raiders to loot the stores of Union supporters. The raiders were not as appreciative of the Copperheads as the sympathizers thought they would be; the rebels didn’t think the Copperheads had done enough to help their cause.
The raiders may not have known that General Grant had grown up here but they knew of one resident. Congressman Chilton White was a “War Democrat”. He was a crucial vote for Lincoln’s war machine. He was certainly not an abolitionist, far from it, but when it came to saving the Union he saw eye to eye with the President. The Confederates wanted to send White a message by burning down his house but the locals, Republicans and Democrats alike, protected their Representative’s home by telling the invaders that he lived outside of town to the west. The Union cavalry was coming from that direction so the house was left alone. The house was, and still is, at 427 N. Main Street.
Almost every able bodied man was in Ripley with the county’s militia. The plan was to block the rebel’s chance to cross the Ohio River at Ripley. A few men were still in Georgetown and one, Frank King, thought he had a pretty good sense of humor. Then asked by a raider where he could find a few shirts, Frank replied,” Try Ripley! I think they have a shirt store there!” The raider knew the militia was in Ripley and he knew Frank King did also. He saw no humor in the answer and pulled his pistol and aimed it at King’s chest. King didn’t back down but rather straightened his chest and stared at his antagonist. The angry raider said he couldn’t forgive King’s ‘black eye’ but before he pulled the trigger he recognized King as an old fried from Kentucky and holstered his pistol and rode on.
The only military man in Georgetown on that day was Lt. Wm. H. Hannah of the 4th Independent Ohio Cavalry Company. He was on leave from Vicksburg to recruit for his company. He had apparently not heard the raiders were expected because he was in his new cavalry uniform when he walked towards the Courthouse Square to see what all the excitement was. It didn’t take long for him to find out. The raider’s ordered him to surrender and when he turned and ran they shot at him. He wasn’t hit and he was not captured. Somehow he found a place to hide where the Confederates wouldn’t look. Hannah was a longtime resident after the war and would talk about his experiences to anyone who would listen but he never explained how he eluded the raiders. He would have bragged about it if he had hid in a coal cellar or in a haystack but would he want it be known if he had hidden in the pit of an outhouse?
For more information see Les Horwitz’s book, “The Longest Raid of the Civil War”.