The Morgan’s raiders ride through the county’s villages.
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Assoc.
“Morgan’s Raid” Part 4
Gold! Nothing was of more interest to the raiders. For days they had heard the rumors that Lexington banks had shipped their gold to Georgetown to protect it from Morgan. Now, on July 15th, 1863, the raiders were in Georgetown and wanted the gold.
Georgetown knew the raiders were coming and Mr. King and Mr. Phillips of the King-Phillips Bank told their janitor to take their $60,000 in gold out in the woods and bury it. When Col. Richard Morgan walked to the bank he expected a prize but all he found was a locked door. He posted guards at the door and sent Lt. Leland Hathaway and several other raiders to find the cashier. He was found at home getting ready to sit down to lunch. He was taken back to the bank and after opening the door and the safe he convinced Col. Morgan that not only was the rumor of Lexington gold not true but that they were a poor country bank with little collateral. All the cashier could offer the raiders were that if they returned with him to his house his wife would them dinner.
Betsy King says of this meal, “She set out all he asked for, a piece of bread and butter with a glass of buttermilk - he sat down to eat his dinner and he did not half finish till an orderly came in giving him a signal of some kinds. He got up in a hurry and went to the front door, and a bugle sounded and in less than five minutes they were all mounted and left town.” Before they left the raiders took a big rock and broke into the Post Office and took all the mail and newspapers. The rebels found two old muskets in the Post Office; took them into the street and broke them over the rock then rode off.
By early afternoon the raiders were out of Georgetown and the citizens began to come out and relive the experience. Mr. Phillips and King went to the bank but the janitor wasn’t there and neither was the gold. He didn’t return that night or the next morning or the next day. He and the gold were never seen again.
Five years after the war a young couple with to same last name as the janitor walked into town. A few days later the couple rode out of town in the finest buggy pulled by the finest horse that could be bought in town. They had paid with gold coin.
The 14th Kentucky was now pounding down the dusty roads towards Ripley. Most years a horseman could ride across the ford at Ripley to Kentucky without getting wet. Kentucky would provide the raiders with relative safety if they could just get across the Ohio River. When the raiders grew near to the river they had to pull up short for they saw a cannon behind several fallen trees and Federal gunboats drifting in the river. Heavy rains in Pennsylvania had swollen the Ohio to springtime levels and crossing to Kentucky was impossible. The raiders turned and rode towards Red Oak.
The Confederates rode through Red Oak, Russellville, Decatur, and north on the Eckmansville Road. The column was just at the county line when a shot rang out from the woods. The man who fired the shot quickly ducked out of sight and when the looked in the direction of the gunshot the saw a single man sanding by a tree. The rebels fired their pistols. In the Cherry Fork Cemetary a tombstone can still be found that reads, “Wm. Johnston - Came to his death by a ball in the head fired by a rebel guerrilla in the village of Eckmansville, July 15 1863 – Aged 60 years.”
Minutes later the Brown County portion of the “Great Ohio Morgan’s Raid” was over. The 14th Kentucky Cavalry rode to Locust Grove and rejoined the main force and they all headed towards Bullington Island, the next shallow place to cross the Ohio. The raiders now rode over 225 Brown County horses and carried along over $10,000 of saddles, bridles, boots, shoes, bolts of cloth, and other merchandize with them on their horses or in ‘liberated’ buggies.
After the raid was over an interesting situation occurred in the county. Copperheads and other southern sympathizers said that it was not Morgan’s men that rode through the county. In Russellville a “Butternut”, southern sympathizer, insisted that Morgan was never in the ‘Buckeye state’ and that it was Unionist Jim Lane and his men in disguise that had passed through Ohio stealing horses and causing panic to turn the public against Copperheads.
For more information see Les Horwitz’s book, “The Longest Raid of the Civil War”.