The Civil War – Thunderbolt of the South

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

The man, who would be compared to J. E. B. Stuart as a natural cavalryman, was born in Huntsville, Alabama in June 1825. When his father’s business failed, the family moved to Kentucky to live with the Hunt family. John Hunt Morgan was the oldest of ten children and was about six when they moved. After his local schooling, he was enrolled at Transylvania University in 1842.

However, his higher education only lasted two years, at which time he was expelled for ”boisterous behavior,” when he was engaged in a duel with one of his fraternity brothers.

When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, Morgan signed up with the 1st Kentucky. He proved to be good at soldiering, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and saw action at Buena Vista. At the end of the war in 1848, Morgan left the army and returned to Kentucky, where he became a successful businessman and married a local woman. He continued his interest in the military by forming a local militia unit.

Prior to the war, he favored the Southern cause, which conflicted with the sentiments of his in-laws. Morgan had hoped conflict would be avoided, but when the war broke out, he sided with the South, flying a Confederate flag over his factory in Kentucky.

According to militaryhistory.about.com, “When his wife died on July 21 [1861] after suffering from several health problems…he decided to take an active role in the coming conflict. As Kentucky remained neutral, Morgan and his company slipped across the border to Camp Boone in Tennessee. Joining the Confederate Army, Morgan soon formed the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry with himself as colonel.

Serving in the Army of Tennessee, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. Developing a reputation as an aggressive commander, Morgan led several successful raids against Union forces. On July 4, 1862, he departed Knoxville, TN with 900 men and swept through Kentucky capturing 1,200 prisoners and wreaking havoc in the Union rear. Likened to American Revolution hero Francis Marion, it was hoped that Morgan’s performance would help sway Kentucky into the Confederate fold. ”

“Thunderbolt of the South” was the nickname given to John Hunt Morgan and his raiders. History.com stated, “Morgan’s outfit was famous for stealth attacks. In 1862 and 1863, he led a series of major raids into Union-held territory. Morgan supported attempts to disrupt Buell’s campaign in Tennessee, and Gallatin was a vital supply point for the Union between Louisville and Nashville.

[On August 12, 1862,] Morgan’s men burned the depot, captured the Union force protecting it, and destroyed an 800-foot railroad tunnel north of town by setting fire to a train loaded with hay and pushing it into the tunnel. The timber supports ignited and burned until the tunnel collapsed. Afterwards, Morgan moved north to support General Edmund Kirby Smith’s invasion of Kentucky.”

John Hunt Morgan had become a legendary Rebel commander – a natural- born leader with keen instincts and a fearless leader, while remaining a true Southern gentleman. His men had the upmost respect for the man, as well as his leadership.