The 7th OVC the vanguard of the Union forces.
“Morgan’s Raid” Part 5
Written by Ned Lodwick, U.S. Grant Homestead Association
Dusk of July 15th, 1863, saw Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raiders far to the east of Brown County but 4-5,000 Union cavalry were riding through our county in pursuit. The Union cavalry had been chasing the raiders since the rebels broke through the Union lines on July 2nd in southern Tennessee.
The 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, the “Ohio Valley Cavalry”, was in the vanguard of the Federal troops. The Regiment was made up of 10 companies of 100 men each from the 10 counties along the Ohio River from Hamilton County east. Brown County’s Company E was under the command of Captain R.C. Rankin, the oldest son of abolitionist Rev. John Rankin of Ripley. The Brigade that contained the 7th as one of its three regiments was commanded by Colonel August Kautz of Brown County.
The Union Cavalry was about six hours behind the raiders for most of the raid. The Federal troopers rode on with little rest but couldn’t catch up. When the Confederate raider’s horses wore out they took fresh horses wherever they found them and left the tired horses behind. When the Federal horses needed replaced there were few horses to choose from that weren’t already exhausted.
When the Northern Troopers entered a village or town the welcome was much different than what the raiders received. No bolted doors, no pulled curtains, no closed stores, no children hiding, no empty pantries, and no frightened townspeople. What they saw at every farm house and village was the “Star Spangled Banner” waving in the breeze, cheering crowds, food by the table full, and the strains of patriotic tunes. The men of the 7th called the chase after Morgan the ‘700 miles of fried chicken’ and said if they ever heard another verse of the “Battle Cry of Freedom” it would be too soon.
As Kautz’s Brigade entered Brown County Co. E took the point so men that knew the roads could lead. Troopers would see friends and loved ones along the road and pull them up behind them to talk for a mile or two and then let then down to walk home, never losing a minute’s time.
There was no fighting between the Union and Confederate cavalry in the area but that doesn’t mean the chase wasn’t without tragedy. While passing through Williamsburg a Union artilleryman fell under a moving cannon and he was crushed. He died the following day and was buried in the Williamsburg Cemetery.
Only a few active military men were in Brown County on July 13th, 1863. One was Lt. Wm. Hannah, discussed in part 2, and the other was Col. James Fyffe of the 59th OVI.
Fyffe was an attorney from Georgetown who had volunteered in early 1861 as a private and had risen through the ranks to become a highly effective and respected officer. He was home to recruit volunteers. Learning of Morgan’s movements Fyffe took command of the county’s militia and set up a brilliant defense. Ripley was established at a ford in the Ohio River, a place that a traveler could walk or ride across the river in low water, and both the raiders and defenders new of a possible crossing there.
Col. Fyffe didn’t know what route the raiders would use to reach Ripley. They could use the Georgetown-Ripley Road (Old 68) or the Hillsboro Pike (Old 62) so he placed his 1500 troops on the ridge between the two. The ridge was behind Rankin’s Liberty Hill. The ridge as most of the area was stripped of trees for firewood and building materials so it afforded an excellent defensive position above both roads. Trees were fallen across both roads and Ripley’s cannon was placed in the center of the Georgetown-Ripley Road (Old 68). All that was left was to wait. Around 1 PM the scouts of 14th Kentucky rode down the Georgetown-Ripley Road (Old 68) and stopped just out of range of the militia. What they saw was not only the militia and the cannon but also four Federal gunboats swinging at anchor in the rain swollen Ohio. The Confederates cut across to the Hillsboro Pike (Old 62) and rode to join the rest of the raiders near Decatur.
The 7th OVI continued to lead the Union cavalry across Southern Ohio in hot pursuit of the raiders. Each county’s company taking the lead as they entered their home county
Finally, at dawn of July 19th, Kautz’s Brigade of 400 troopers caught up with the raiders. The raiders had spent the night at the ford at Buffington Island and planned to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia when the heavy fog lifted. Kautz’s brigade had traveled a little inland and had come upon the rebels from behind. As the fog rose the men of the brigade could hear gunfire from the west. A fierce battle had begun between the main forces along the river and the Kautz Brigade, 400 men, was across to southerners only path of retreat. Kautz knew that there were two thousand enemy troopers down that road and no support for him for it least two hours. Kautz ordered an attack and the brigade led by the 7th moved forward. The Union forces carried the day and because the escape route was blocked by Kautz’s troopers over 1,700 raiders were captured.
As the raider’s tried to escape they threw away most of the plunder they had accumulated. When they dropped the many bolts of cloth in their possession as the rode up the hills and through the woods while fleeing they held one end of the cloth and let the bolts unroll behind them. The men of the 7th said, “It looked like we were chasing rainbows”.
A week later, on July 26th, the remainder of Morgan’s command, about 340 men, surrendered and the ‘Great Ohio Raid’ was over but memories of the troopers live on along the roads and in the villages of Brown County.
“On the march, each wind-shod troop, the purple midnight through, Now at a walk, now at a trot, as through passing in review; With sabers drawn, and misty banners waving over all, And drifting upward to the stars, an inspiring bugle call, The phantom sounds of battle float along the peopled air, Muffled commands, - the Captains shouting, - and hark! A distant cheer.”